The calm before the semi-final storm

England's Harry Maguire Croatia's Ivan Perisic France's Kylian Mbappe and Belgium's Romelu Lukaku will feature in the World Cup semi-finals. Agencies

The penalty shootout win against hosts Russian Federation in the quarterfinals on Saturday seems to have gone a long way towards achieving that.

Each team has played well in the past 3 weeks, hence each one of them has even a slight chance of entering the finals and leaving with the title. "Thank God for this generation which has managed to get to a semifinal and justify Croatia's status as a football superpower... at least a small one", the former Chelsea midfielder said.

Going all the way to an obviously dramatic 3-4 penalty shootout with the 2018 tournament hosts, Ivan Rakitic, Domagoj Vida and the rest of the Croatian national team put the brakes on Vladimir Putin and Russia's eventual aim of a World Cup final perch. Ignashevich, 38, is in fact quitting the game for good, acknowledging it was a hard decision to take but was quoted as saying that "I could have hardly imagined to end my career with such a highlight". "It will be a battle again but I trust us, I have belief in us".

"Croatia have reached the semi-finals".

In a World Cup where set-pieces have played such a huge role and with teams becoming ever more cautious as the final approaches, that edge could prove the difference between England ending 52 years of hurt or falling at the penultimate hurdle. "It is very near and we will leave our last drop of sweat on the pitch to achieve our goal".

"But we've been a real team and we have got some excellent players, no doubt about that, but the collective strength has been massive".

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For the occasion they have decorated their shop, the Taste Croatia deli in Borough Market, with both England and Croatian flags.

Kane recalls with affection the buzz from watching past tournaments, dreaming one day of pulling on the England jersey. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev said the team had played with all the heart and soul.

"It's incredible, because I was one of those kids growing up who wanted to play for England".

Perenial shootout losers England were up next, taking on Colombia in the round of 16.

"He (Southgate) has been a big part of that and wanting us to spend an extra 10 minutes getting to know each other and creating a bond that you don't normally get with everyone spending so much time at your club - and for me that's been a massive factor. We have everything needed to do that, a great team, great staff and I hope we will make the extra step", he said. This trend has powered the rise of teams that traditionally do not do well in World Cups.

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