England will be making its first appearance in a World Cup semi-final contest since 1990 when it takes on a surprising squad from Croatia on Wednesday in a 2018 FIFA World Cup matchup at Luzhniki Stadium. Croatia marches into their first semi-final appearance since 1998 riding a nine-match unbeaten streak in competitive contests.
Here are some of the clashes that could make or break Croatian and English hearts:
Mario Mandzukic vs Harry Maguire
Mario Mandzukic is a constant aerial threat and his battle with England's finest defender in the air, Harry Maguire, will be telling at both ends of the pitch. Mandzukic is a hard-working striker often deployed in defensive positions at set pieces, and England's prowess from set pieces will bring Mandzukic into sharp focus. When Mandzukic and Croatia are on the attack, Maguire will be stretched out of position by Mandzukic's smart channel-running and Croatia could then capitalise on that vacated space if their talented midfielders can get on the ball.
Luka Modric vs Dele Alli
Regarded as the finest midfield player on the planet, Luka Modric has become a serial winner at Real Madrid and is touching distance from a final with his beloved Croatia. The ex-Tottenham playmaker will come up against a current Spurs favourite, Dele Alli, in an enticing midfield battle. Modric was deployed in a deeper role against Russia and he might have a similar job against England while being tasked with dictating their tempo and starting attacks. Modric, Alli's senior by a decade and 8 months, will need support from Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic when attempting to contain the youthful exuberance and danger posed by Alli. If Modric can use his experience and know-how against the young midfielders Alli and Jesse Lingard, Croatia have a high chance.
Dejan Lovren vs Harry Kane
Dejan Lovren has been Croatia's defensive rock at the World Cup. His early displays at club level for Liverpool were punctuated by inconsistency and silly mistakes, but he's become a rock-solid performer of late. He took part in a Champions League final and will be dreaming of the World Cup final now. His job us an unenviable one, to try and tame Three Lions skipper and leading goal scorer at the World Cup, Harry Kane.