It’s time for Gareth Southgate to come up with a big speech of his own.
After England gave up a tying goal to Brazil in first-half stoppage time in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals, Southgate felt coach Sven-Goran Eriksson lacked inspirational oratory in the locker room at halftime.
Now the 47-year-old former England international is leading the team, which plays Croatia on Wednesday in England’s first World Cup semifinal in 28 years. The match is riveting the Land of Hope and Glory, which won its only title at home in 1966.
“Probably 18 months ago I talked to them about if you have success with England, it will be so much bigger than anything you can imagine, and I think that is probably starting to register with them now,” Southgate said after Saturday’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over Sweden.
Southgate, who didn’t play against Brazil, took a swipe at Eriksson after the 2-1 loss, comparing the cool-speaking Swede to a Tory opposition leader widely regarded as dull.
“We needed Churchill, but we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” an unnamed defender, later identified as Southgate, was quoted as saying in a 2004 book by Joe Lovejoy.
No word whether Southgate will offer his “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” With the coach keeping his strategies close to his now-famous vest, a young roster led by Harry Kane hopes to succeed where Gary Lineker, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney failed.
England is ranked 12th in the world and Croatia 20th. The winner advances to Sunday’s final against France or Belgium, which also will be at Luzkniki Stadium.
Croatia lost its only previous semifinal match to host France in 1998. It beat Denmark in the round of 16 and host Russia in the quarter-finals this year, becoming only the second team with consecutive shootout wins in the same World Cup since Argentina defeated Yugoslavia and Italy in 1990.
“It won’t be easy for us,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said through a translator. “We will focus in the next few days to recover as much as possible. We will look for the best solutions ahead the match, considering we have a few players with minor issues after the match against Russia. It won’t be easy, but to get into the semifinals it’s a new motive for us.”
In England’s last semifinal match, Andreas Brehme’s 60th-minute shot deflected off an onrushing Paul Parker at the penalty arc and looped over goalkeeper Peter Shilton to put West Germany ahead.
England tied the score when Parker’s cross bounced off Juergen Kohler and fell to Lineker, who beat goalkeeper Bodo Illgner to the far post. In the shootout, Stuart Pearce was stopped by Illgner on England’s fourth attempt, Olaf Thon converted for a 4-3 lead and Chris Waddle shot over the crossbar.
Croatia went ahead in the 1998 semifinals only 26 seconds into the second half when Aljosa Asanovic split the defence with a pass, and Davor Suker scored his fifth goal of the tournament. Lilian Thuram tied the score a minute later after stealing the ball from Zvonimir Boban near the Croat penalty area and exchanging passes with Youri Djorkaeff. Thuram scored the go-ahead goal with a curling shot in the 70th minute.
Head to head:
Croatians played for Yugoslavia before splitting off in 1990. England has four wins, two losses and one draw in the matchup, including a 4-2 victory in the group stage of the 2004 European Championship. The teams have not met since qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, when England won 4-1 in Zagreb and 5-1 at Wembley Stadium.
England goalkeeper Paul Robinson kicked at and missed a backpass from Gary Neville, allowing an own-goal in a 2-0 loss in a European qualifier in 2006. Goalkeeper Scott Carson fumbled Niki Kranjcar’s shot into the net for the opening goal as Croatia won 3-2 at Wembley the following year, causing England to miss Euro 2008. England coach Steve McClaren held a large red-and-blue umbrella on the sidelines and was mocked as the “Wally with the brolly,” and he was fired the next day.