MOSCOW (AP) — A look at what’s coming up at the World Cup:
It has been two decades since Croatia last played in the World Cup semifinals, and 28 years since England made the final four.
Croatia has never advanced to the championship match. The wait for England to reach a second final dates back to 1966, when it won the World Cup for the only time.
The victor in Wednesday’s semifinal match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will return there for a final on Sunday against France, which beat Belgium 1-0 in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
England has four wins, two losses and a draw in games against Croatia dating back to 1996. 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.
IS IT COMING HOME?
England fans are confident they are closer than ever to regaining the World Cup.
The Lightning Seeds “Three Lions,” England’s official song when it hosted the 1996 European Championship, with its repeated chorus of “football’s coming home” has hit No. 5 this week on YouTube UK’s top music videos charts with more than 2 million views on the day of England’s last match.
England coach Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick in the semifinals of that tournament in 1996 and said he couldn’t listen to the song for 20 years.
He’s ready to face the music now and says “it’s nice to hear people enjoying it again.”
While England eased through the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over Sweden, Croatia was forced into a penalty shootout against Russia after finishing extra time at 2-2. That made it back-to-back shootouts for Croatia following its narrow win over Denmark in the round of 16.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic had a hamstring injury during extra time against Russia but remained in the match and played his role when the game went to penalties. Right back Sime Vrsaljko limped off during extra time but Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has described the injury as a “niggle.”
Dalic said he isn’t concerned about his Croatia squad running out of steam.
“Of course there’s power left for the English,” Dalic said. “We don’t want to stop. We want to play our best game.”
It has been a rocky road off the field, too, for Croatia. Team official and former international Ognjen Vukojevic was expelled from the delegation for making a pro-Ukraine video with defender Domagoj Vida. The pair previously played for Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev.
Vukojevic was fined $15,150 by FIFA but Vida was let off with an official warning after apologizing for the video, which was posted after the team beat Russia. That leaves him free to play against England.
The French players danced on the field after their victory but toned it down slightly to shake hands with Thierry Henry, who helped Les Bleus win the World Cup in 1998 and is now Belgium’s assistant coach.
Henry did everything he could to help Belgium bring down France, but ultimately the team with more goals than any in the tournament was unable to score in the semifinals.
France’s all-time leading scorer will finish off his World Cup gig with Belgium in the playoff for third place in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Then, no doubt, he’ll be supporting the French pursuit of a second World Cup title the following day in Moscow.
Didier Deschamps won the World Cup as a player in 1998, and is now one win away from winning as coach. That’s something only Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) and Mario Zagallo (Brazil) have done.
After praising his players for their performances in reaching the final, Deschamps was asked about his own contribution.
“I’m not going to be too humble, either,” he said. “I have responsibility for the team. Of course I have an important role on a daily basis, but the credit goes to my players. But it’s a pure pleasure to see these players grow, and never give up.”
Fans celebrated the victory all over France, with fireworks and flares lighting up the sky above Paris and Marseille.
“I’ve seen the images of Paris. It brings back a lot of good memories. The most important awaits us on Sunday,” Deschamps said. “We’re immensely privileged to be in the World Cup final. We have to savor it.”
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — They’re young, they’re brash and they’re collectively worth a billion dollars. The one thing missing for this French squad is an international title.
Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and France are about to get that chance.
Les Bleus are headed to the World Cup final.
Samuel Umtiti clinched a 1-0 win over Belgium — and earned the approval of watching French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP seats at St. Petersburg Stadium — by scoring on a header off a corner kick in the 51st minute on Tuesday.
“Vive la France! Vive la Republique!” France forward Antoine Griezmann shouted during postgame celebrations.
Umtiti played his part in a strong defensive effort by the French, too, helping to shut out the highest-scoring team at the tournament and leaving Belgium’s golden generation of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to regret another missed opportunity at a major tournament.
“It’s me that scored,” Umtiti said, “but we all delivered a big game.”
France’s players danced on the field after the final whistle and their fans sang in the stands long past the end of the match, surrounded by yellow-clad security.
They certainly hope to keep the party going on Sunday in the final in Moscow. France — with an average age of 26 — will face either Croatia or England, who play Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and has a shot at redemption after losing its last two major finals — at the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a nasty head-butt and the 2016 European Championship on home soil.
“We’re immensely privileged to be in the World Cup final,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It was so painful two years ago we have to savor it.”
Deschamps now has the chance to become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and a coach, after German great Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo. As France captain, Deschamps raised soccer’s most prized trophy in 1998.
Deschamps has faced some criticism for being too pragmatic and functional despite having a squad of superstars, but his team was set up superbly against an opponent that was largely restricted to only minor chances and denied on two occasions in particular by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
He dived to his right midway through the first half to claw away Toby Alderweireld’s shot, then got in front of Lukaku to punch away one of the many crosses sent in by Belgium in the final stages.
In a tournament dominated by goals from set pieces, France’s goal came off a corner when Griezmann curled in the ball from the right and Umtiti got in front of tall Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini to knock in his header at the near post.
Up in the corporate seats, president Macron reacted to the goal by shaking the hand of King Philippe of Belgium as FIFA president Gianni Infantino watched on between them.
“Unfortunately for us, the difference is just a dead-ball situation, a set play,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. “The game was, as you can imagine, very close, very tight, and it was going to be decided (on) maybe the one that could find that final touch in the box.”
After reaching the quarterfinals at both the 2014 World Cup and the European Championship in 2016, Belgium again missed the chance to get to an international final and has yet to fulfil its lofty expectations. Leading the scoring in this tournament with 14 goals, many thought this could be their year.
With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar no longer in Russia, Hazard and Mbappe have taken over as the stars of the World Cup and there was a buzz every time either got the ball.
Yet while Hazard — Belgium’s captain — faded after a strong opening 30 minutes, Mbappe was a constant threat. His first touch was after 10 seconds and, after receiving the ball on the right wing, he sped past Jan Vertonghen and then Mousa Dembele on a thrilling run.
At 19, Mbappe wasn’t even born when France won the World Cup for the first and only time with a squad that is just as diverse as the one Deschamps is leading 20 years later.
Umtiti was born in Cameroon. Mbappe has Algerian-Cameroonian roots.
“It’s a pure pleasure to see these players grow,” Deschamps said, “and never give up.”
Instead of a trip to Moscow, Belgium will return to St. Petersburg on Saturday for the third-place match no team wants to play.
IN THE STANDS
Along with the French and Gabonese presidents and the king and queen of Belgium, there was rock ‘n’ roll royalty watching the game.
Mick Jagger was one of the many famous faces in the stands at St. Petersburg Stadium. The Rolling Stones frontman is a big soccer fan, having attended the World Cup final in Brazil in 2014 as well as many England games.
Former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson, who is the partner of France defender Adil Rami, also was present.
WORLD SCORES: COURTESY OF LIVESCORE.COM