Croatia defender Vedran Corluka believes England’s style of play will suit his side more than their past two opponents' did when they do battle this week for a place in the World Cup final.
Zlatko Dalic’s team take on England in the semi-final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, where they will bid to record their country’s best performance at the tournament by reaching the showpiece. England, meanwhile, are looking to make the final for the second time, and first since winning the title in 1966.
Croatia have endured a slightly more arduous road through the knockouts. Saturday’s victory on penalties against hosts Russia was their second successive match to go to a shoot-out after they were pushed all the way by Denmark in the last 16 six days earlier.
However, Corluka feels England’s willingness to attack should allow Croatia more room to express themselves. Asked if England will be treated as just another game, the gregarious former Tottenham Hotspur defender, who has 102 caps, said: “No. We watched England in all their games and they play really well. They are confident and have a young team. Before they didn't have any pressure. [The media] just said to them: 'Just do what you can', but now even you are hoping that it can come home, yeah?
“We’ve never won it, so we can't say the same thing. But you have a great team and it will be a really difficult game. We like to play against teams like this because we have really fast players and it will be a really open game, not like today or the game against Denmark.”
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Corluka was part of the Croatia side who defeated England 3-2 at Wembley in 2007, a result that ensured their rivals did not qualify for the 2008 European Championship. Steve McClaren was dismissed as manager the following day.
Eleven years on, Corluka feels the current England side's style could suit Croatia again, saying: “Yes, because it’s a game we all want to win. We will both want to have possession. You can see the style of England is a little bit like Manchester City. Especially [John] Stones, who is always on the ball.
“So hopefully it will be a great game for the fans and hopefully it will be like more like Wembley in 2007. More like that please.”
With a number of Croatia’s players the wrong side of 30 - Corluka is 32 – the versatile veteran acknowledges time is running out for his team to surpass their fabled 1998 side, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in France before taking bronze.
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“Now it’s probably the last World Cup for a lot of us,” Corluka said. “So it’s a case of giving all we have and go further than we ever have before. Nobody expected this to be honest. In ourselves we thought we could do a lot, but not this.
“This is something we have been dreaming about. Ten years ago we had a famous generation and now we are close to them because we are in the semi-final after 20 years. That is something special in our country. The whole country is celebrating and all the team is very proud.”
Corluka joked that Croatia are too small a country for Uefa or Fifa to consider captain Luka Modric for the Ballon d’Or, prompting a reporter to ask if Croatia were too small to be world champions.
He replied: “We are not. All four countries now are hoping to win it and everyone has equal chances. Hopefully it will be us.”
Belgium and France make up the other semi-final, to be played on Tuesday.