England reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990 has looked a possibility for a while, with their major rivals falling in the group and last-16 stages, but it was still something of a surprise – given their history of underachievement – to see such an inexperienced squad successfully navigate their way past Colombia and Sweden.
Their game in the second round contained the added bonus of a winning penalty shootout for the first time at a World Cup and, coupled with a late winner over Tunisia on matchday one, things have fallen nicely into place for Gareth Southgate and his squad of 23. Spain were looking the likely opponents at this stage, but they were eliminated by the hosts Russia on penalties.
Last night’s narrow 1-0 win over Belgium means that tonight’s winner will play France in Sunday’s showpiece final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Whichever team advances will be underdogs, but Croatia certainly have the quality to trouble the Three Lions. Though they have appeared nervous at times in the knockout stage – needing penalty shootouts to see off Denmark and Russia – Vatreni dismantled Argentina comprehensively in the group stage and claimed maximum points.
Tonight’s semi-final is of massive importance to both countries. England have not reached a final since 1966 when they beat West Germany in their home tournament, but the fact that they headed to this summer’s finals with limited expectations means that whatever happens they will be heroes when they return. Croatia, meanwhile, reached the last-four in 1998 and finished third, but given their personnel and opponents may not have a better chance to advance to a final.
Harry Kane has six goals and is on course to secure the Golden Boot award – he is 1.04 to stay in top spot with his nearest rival Romelu Lukaku (four goals) having just one game with which to catch him. Indeed, a goal tonight for the Tottenham Hotspur striker (2.50 anytime) would all but wrap up the honour and make him just the second Englishman after Gary Lineker to do so.
The Three Lions are 1.55 favourites to outright reach the final, but the difficulty in predicting the outcome means that extra-time (2.55) and penalties (4.20) are real possibilities.
In total there are a huge 143 markets to bet on at Tipbet.com, as well as unique promotions to take advantage of.