Superstition corner. Croatia have got this far after two tense penalty shoot-outs, against Denmark and hosts Russia. A good omen? The only other team to have managed two shootout wins at a single World Cup, consecutive or otherwise, were Argentina in 1990, against Yugoslavia in the quarters and Italy in the semis. Croatia will hope they similarly reach the final.
As for England? They’ll be relying on the old saying that bad luck comes in threes. The English have lost their last three semi-finals in major tournaments: Euro 68 against Yugoslavia, Italia 90 against West Germany, and Euro 96 against Germany. So that sequence having been completed, a new positive cycle can begin. That’s how fate works, fairly and methodically, right?
England have the better of the head-to-head with the Republika Hrvatska. The countries have met on seven occasions since 1996, and England have won four of them. In some style, as well: a 3-1 friendly win at Portman Road in 2003; a 4-2 victory at Euro 2004 (aka the Wayne Rooney game); a 4-1 triumph in Zagreb in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup (aka the Theo Walcott game); and a 5-1 thrashing at Wembley during the same qualification campaign. Some big wins there.
But there are a couple of major triumphs for Croatia, too, ones which left scars on the English psyche. They came home and away in the qualifiers for Euro 2008, results which ensured Steve McClaren’s side never made the tournament proper. Both games are painful memories for England: a 2-0 win in Zagreb best remembered for the Gary Neville backpass that bobbled over a divot and deceived Paul Robinson as Borat glared in the background; and a 3-2 humiliation at Wembley, Scott Carson’s mistake, Steve’s brolly, all that.Continue reading...