France start final countdown and England expects in Russia – as it happened

Recap all of the news from a bumper day of buildup to England’s date with Croatia in Moscow, and reaction to France’s win

World Cup semi-final: Croatia v England – live updates!

Kick-off is fast approaching in Moscow, and England fans and flags – from Tonbridge, Truro and beyond – are out in force. So, without further ado, strap yourselves in for all of the pain, glory and ecstasy, as it happens, with Scott Murray right here:

A first glimpse inside the England dressing room, via the kit man:

According to Gareth Southgate, this semi-final – which, frankly, is still sinking in – is only the start of things to come for England. “This team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of, partly because of their age but also because they’ll have more big-match experiences over the next few years,” he said yesterday. “We are excited about the future but we want to make the most of this opportunity as well.”

Any early predictions? I’ll go England, on penalties, and promptly run for cover. Croatia have only met England once before at a major tournament – with Sven-Göran Eriksson’s team running out 4-2 winners in a group stage match at Euro 2004.


Can I introduce you please, to a lump of cheddar cheese:

Kick it.

Lurking outside the team hotel, Zlatko Dalic, the Croatia manager, says he is “always optimistic” before the big one. As for Stipe Pletikosa, the former Croatia No 1 once of Tottenham Hotspur in 2010, he’s been talking up both sides. “They are really young, they really know how to attack opponents but we have experienced players who know how to deal with this situation, and that is a big plus for us today,” he says. “Rakitic, Modric, Mandzukic have huge experience at the highest level.”


More on our big-time loser list from a little earlier. “It was actually even worse for the three Leverkusen guys, Schneider, Ramelow and Neuville, in 2002,” emails Christoph Hintermeier, all the way from Berlin, “because they not only came second in the World Cup and Champions League finals, but also lost the German Cup final to Schalke and lost the German league championship to Dortmund on the last day of the season after being at the top for most of 2001-2002. So they lost four major titles in the space of almost two months and Leverkusen cemented its Vizekusen stigma as the club who always comes second.” A reminder of our list:

• Thierry Henry (Arsenal and France 2006)
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner (West Germany and Bayern Munich 1982)
• Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich and Netherlands 2010)
• Nils Liedholm (Milan and Sweden 1958)
• Carsten Ramelow, Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany 2002)

Oliver Neuville v Lucio, 2002.
Oliver Neuville v Lucio, 2002. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/EPA


The PA system at the Luzhniki is currently blaring out Three Lions, presumably as some sort of practice in the event of another thumping header from ‘Slab Head’, Harry Maguire:

“Football’s Coming Home”.


Between 8,000-10,000 England supporters – many of whom have broken the bank – are en route to Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Some are already in situ, some are still flocking towards the Russian capital. Supporters who have arrived without tickets face a day of haggling with black marketeers and private sellers in order to get in. Back home, the National Grid is braced for a 2,000MW-plus power surge – three times bigger than in England’s group games – as fans watching the game at home grab beers from the fridge and put on around 400,000 kettles to boil cups of tea.


The last time England played Croatia, contrary to popular belief, things turned out pretty well. Fabio Capello’s team, fit with Matt Upson in defence, Rob Green in goal and a strike-force led by a front two of Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney, ran out emphatic 5-1 winners at Wembley in September 2009. Before that, not so good:


Steven Gerrard, the former England captain, has weighed in with his two-pennies’ worth on whether it’s coming home, and Ewan Murray was listening in on what the Rangers manager had to say:

I fancy England, I must say,” Gerrard admitted. “I think they have handled every barrier or hurdle thrown at them in this World Cup and seem to be getting over them very well. “Croatia are a fantastic team. I think they actually possess the best midfielder in the world in the moment in Luka Modric. So it will certainly be a test, and the biggest test so far, but I just think there is a snowball effect and a feel-good factor that Gareth has continued to roll in a very impressive way. I think England will take some stopping.”

Pressed on what Southgate has done differently to his immediate predecessors, Gerrard initially smiled. “I think he has picked his penalty takers pretty well! No, let’s be honest, England have done great to be where they are but the biggest test is about to come tonight, with all due respect to Colombia and Sweden. “England have had, not an easy ride but a comfortable ride, let’s say. I think they will have to be the real deal tonight so we will find out if they are potential winners tonight. It will be very tough to go on and win the tournament with France in the final, but tonight we will find out if they are the real deal.”

Quietly confident.
Quietly confident. Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Rex/Shutterstock


Jordan Henderson is fit to start, should Gareth Southgate stick with the same XI that toppled Sweden in the quarter-finals, as expected. Henderson excelled in that match, but faces arguably his biggest test in stifling the Modric-Rakitic axis in Moscow this evening. And his club manager, Jürgen Klopp, admits he is happy the Liverpool man is finally getting some recognition. “I think there’s a lot more to come but finally they see Jordan Henderson,” Klopp said. “Somebody needs to do the work in the midfield, like Hendo, for example. He is not only a workhorse but a really good footballer as well. So, I’m happy for him now that he gets at least a little bit of the light and it is very well deserved.”

Jordan Henderson

Who’s the man in the middle tonight? Cuneyt Cakir. Not that it means anything ... but, the Turkish referee has taken charge of five previous England games and has never overseen an England defeat, the most recent at Wembley, a 3-0 win over Scotland in 2016 – a game that Southgate was still in interim charge for and Kyle Walker, John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling all started. He also refereed the Champions League final in 2015.

Daniel Sturridge wheels away.
Daniel Sturridge wheels away. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian


It seems an apt time get a little fuzzy and nostalgic. And this hastily-created XI – with a belting midfield of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Sir Bobby Charltonis the closest thing to Gareth Southgate’s beloved – and so far brilliant – 3-5-2 system:

All-time XI.
All-time XI. Photograph: GNM

You can create your own here – or peruse Viv Anderson’s picks:

His performance against Spain in that opening round of matches – so long ago now – was nothing short of stunning, and the purring Portuguese has since moved on to pastures new with Juventus. But, in Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid are losing more than just four-hundred-and-fifty-one goals (44 of which were hat-tricks):


Forget all the talk of Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappé or Luka Modric. We have a new star; Google has reported queries containing ‘World Cup’ have gone up by 200%, and those involving ‘beer’ by 65% as an old favourite helps fans in Russia connect:

Away from the usual suspects, Andrej Kramaric has had a really impressive tournament. He endured a forgettable stint at Leicester after a £9m move, but has been one of Croatia’s most dangerous players going forward, as our player ratings suggest here:

Andrej Kramaric

More red-hot supermarket news: further to Aldi, Iceland and Lidl pledging to shut up shop early should England reach Sunday’s final, unions and politicians are calling for a bank holiday in the event of it coming home, so to speak. The Trades Union Congress general secretary, Frances O’Grady, thinks a first World Cup win since 1966 merits a national holiday. “We have fewer bank holidays than most of Europe,” she said. “Giving people a day off to celebrate the World Cup would be great for the country and isn’t going to crash the economy. Workers put in billions worth of unpaid overtime each year. They should be allowed to enjoy special occasions.”


Even more on that Jagger Jinx. “In 1990 I went to see the Rolling Stones at Wembley on the night that England played West Germany in the semi-final,” begins Josh Mandel. “Fortunately there was a guy standing near us with a mini-telly, so we kept tabs on the game. At the end of extra time Jagger left the stage for ten minutes, leaving Keith to sing lead vocals on a couple of songs before Jagger came back on. They’d already done “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, but they did finish the night with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, which seemed appropriate.”

England v Germany, Turin, 1990.
England v Germany, Turin, 1990. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock


Welcome to the latest chapter of Waistcoat Wednesday, where much of the buildup to England’s biggest game since 1990 continues to revolve around one man, for M&S, the team’s official suit supplier since 2007, said demand for waistcoats has risen 35%, owing to the “Gareth Southgate effect”:


I’d argue that Rob Smyth knows more about Italia 90 than most of the footballers who played in it. And he wrote a lovely piece for The Blizzard in 2014 about the long-term impact that England’s penalty shootout defeat by West Germany in the World Cup semi-final had on English football. There are some lovely nuggets in there, not least this one that may come to mind tonight if the game goes to penalties.

The demand for electricity just after Waddle’s kick against West Germany was the highest for six years, since the final episode of The Thorn Birds.”

You can read his wonderful piece here and then Ben Fisher will take over to bring you all the buildup as England’s Class of 2018 attempt to go one further than Bobby Robson’s boys. Bye.


Our graphics team have been working furiously throughout the World Cup to bring you more stats, charts and graphs than you would find in a maths textbook. Here is how Croatia and England compare for shots and goals in each match throughout the tournament right up to tonight’s semi-final.

World Cup

And here’s our ongoing graphical interpretation of Russia 2018, where every game and goal is presented in snazzy fashion as a treat for your peepers.


And did you know there was another major match going on as I type that involves England? Here’s Tanya Aldred to tell you all about it.


Apparently, there’s a game on tonight and some grown men still can’t think of dressing up as anything other than 12th-15th century knights of the realm to display their Englishness.

Meanwhile, away from the World Cup, here’s a bit of Chelsea-related news:


An update on our big-time loser list. Michael Ballack, who lost the European Cup final with Leverkusen in 2002, was suspended for the World Cup final that year so did not play. So he’s been scratched off. However, we now have Ballack’s teammates Carsten Ramelow, Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville to add. So the list reads:

Thierry Henry (Arsenal and France 2006)
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner (West Germany and Bayern Munich 1982)
Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich and Netherlands 2010)
Nils Liedholm (Milan and Sweden 1958)
Carsetn Ramelow, Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany 2002)

So Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Lovren will be hoping to avoid joining this group if they get to the final.

What time is it? It’s World Cup Fiver O’Clock! Here’s Paul Doyle on whether football or flipall is coming home.


More on the Jagger Jinx here. It goes further back than we thought. “This didn’t start in 2010 - he was in the crowd for [England’s defeat by Argentina] in St Etienne 1998; I remember the pictures of him and the Guardian describing him,” writes John Cox.

I wonder if the Jagger Jinx expands beyond football. If you saw him, say, when you were about to do a bungee jump, should you immediately check on your life insurance policy? All this talk of the Jagger Jinx can’t be good for Rolling Stones ticket sales.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger: possibly torpedoing England’s hopes of a World Cup final if he turns up tonight. Photograph: East News/Rex Shutterstock

Paul Pogba has dedicated France’s 1-0 semi-final win over Belgium to the 12 Thai boys who were rescued from a flooded cave along with their coach on Tuesday.

“This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong,” Pogba said after Samuel Umtiti’s headed goal put France in Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow, where they will play Croatia or England.

On Wednesday, La Liga said they had invited the boys and their coach to Spain to attend a Spanish top flight game in the future when they have fully recovered from the ordeal.
La Liga’s president Javier Tebas said: “When the moment is right and everyone is ready I would like to invite the children and their coach to go to a Liga game. We would like to host them and share with them the happiness of football, hoping that this can go some way to helping them after everything they’ve been through in the last few weeks.”

Fifa had invited the boys to Sunday’s World Cup final although the world organising body said that due to medical reasons the boys would not be in a position to travel to the game, although they would invite them to an event in the future.


I think we’ve hit peak ‘It’s Coming Home’:

Kira Nelson can’t help but get ahead of herself: “If England do potentially reach the final, what sort of game plan would we have against France? I see Trippier’s crosses as a big factor. Had Nacer Chadli provided some better balls into the box last night the outcome of the match may have been very different, as it seemed this was the only time France’s defence seemed in any way vulnerable. Trying to play through France in my opinion would be a terrible idea, and on the break Mbappe is a fearsome prospect. Get the ball out wide as often as possible to Trippier and Young to whip them in, stop passes into Mbappe and we may have a chance. Assuming we can get past Croatia and the magician that is Luka Modric.”

If you’ve enjoyed reading Jorge Valdano, Barney Ronay, Marcel Desailly, Thomas Hitzlsperger and the rest of our World Cup team’s coverage of the tournament so far, then you can help to support us and ensure we can continue to cover future tournaments so comprehensively in the future by becoming a Guardian member. Our senior sports writer, Barney Ronay, explains how you can help keep the Guardian’s football coverage in play.

An answer to Rosa O’Rourke’s question about the shape of the blob flags before games in Russia.

The UK is now the most obese nation in Western Europe. Twenty-eight per cent of children between two and 15 are overweight – and Barney Ronay believes England’s run at the World Cup should be used for the greater good and inspire youngsters at grassroots level to be healthier in a way that the Olympics failed to do.

“My family have been debating a very important question all tournament - during the anthems, what shape are the weird flag blobs meant to be? Our guesses have included hearts, tears, and a location pin like on google maps, but we can’t find the answer anywhere! Can the famous Guardian investigative journalism help us settle this argument?” asks Rosa O’Rourke. I would love to be able to tell you Rosa, but our investigative journalist David Conn is busy. So I’ll plump for teardrops, because football makes us all cry a little, even if it’s just inside.

Ralph Brown has been busy pulling apart the lyrics to Three Lions to give us a glimpse into the glass-half-empty English psyche.

Superstitions eh? I suspect James Walsh won’t be the only England fan avoiding walking under ladders, blanking a black cat or swerving cracks in the pavement today: “I am struggling with my own Jagger’s jinx for tonight. A friend has invited me over to watch the match, but it is well known that the specific combination of me in that guy’s house ends in embarrassing English defeat regardless of format or feasibility – a record dating back to the 2007 cricket World Cup, despite the best efforts of future PM Ravinder Bopara. He has admittedly since moved down the road, but the one match of this World Cup I’ve seen at his new place was … Belgium 1-0 England. Should I just lock myself in the shed?” Maybe, but perhaps take a bucket.

Croatia have another stellar midfielder you know – and David Hytner has written this lovely piece about the man who is happy to be put on the spot.

The pressure is intense, never more than on that walk from the halfway line when teammates are begging you to please, please, please score and every step seems an eternity. Yet, on the outside at least, he walked calmly into the next round, taking Croatia with him, making history. It is more than penalties too, there is something in that idea that defines him well beyond the spot, the safety in knowing he is there, when needed and what is needed.

An intriguing battle in tonight’s game will be that between Harry Kane and Dejan Lovren, who had a nightmare against Tottenham last October and was hauled off after 31 minutes of Liverpool’s 4-1 defeat. In Croatia’s press conference he was asked whether this game would be on his mind, and was a little bit miffed.

I don’t know what to say in response to this question. It’s completely irrelevant, that 4-1 defeat. Why didn’t you ask me how I played well against him in other games? You’re just nit-picking in terms of my performances.

To be fair to Lovren, he has recovered remarkably well since that low point, having got over a debilitating back injury and then benefited from having Virgil van Dijk as his partner in central defence at Liverpool. He played brilliantly in the Champions League games and appears so much more assured now. Croatia’s best chance of upsetting Lovren could be if Kane drops deep and pulls him out of position. Prhaps then Raheem Sterling or Dele Alli could find space in behind.


The state of the world right here, summed up by corporate banter between the public transport authorities of Paris and Brussels. Here’s the story via Reuters:

Brussels commuters, heading to work the morning after Belgium’s painful World Cup loss to France, had to endure the French soccer anthem piped through the city’s metro on Wednesday.

The reason: not only did the national team lose 1-0 in Tuesday’s semi-final but also the Brussels public transport authority lost a bet with its Parisian counterpart. Before the match, the two groups challenged each other on social media. If Belgium won, Paris would change signs at its Saint-Lazare station to “Saint Hazard” in honour of Belgian whirlwind midfielder Eden Hazard. But after the “Golden Generation’s” defeat in St Petersburg, Brussels instead had to “treat” travellers to the anthem “Tous Ensemble” -

All together - by late French rocker Johnny Hallyday at 8 and 10 am. At least Hallyday’s father was a Belgian. The country honoured the singer’s heritage when he died last year, playing his greatest hits on trains and over loudspeakers on the Grand Place in central Brussels.


I asked you which other players have lost a European Cup final and World Cup final in the same year and you didn’t disappoint. The sorry list of big time double-losers is:

Thierry Henry (Arsenal and France 2006)
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner (West Germany and Bayern Munich 1982)
Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich and Netherlands 2010)
Nils Liedholm (Milan and Sweden 1958)

“Nils Liedholm managed to do the unwanted double of losing the European Cup final and the World Cup final in the same year at the earliest opportunity. In May 1958, he captained Milan to a 3-2 defeat against the great Real Madrid team of Di Stefano and Kopa, after being 1-0 and 2-1 up - just over a month later, he opened the scoring for Sweden against Brazil, only to lose 5-2 to Pele and Garrincha’s mob,” writes Phili Laing.

If you want to know if what the longest assist in World Cup history is then today’s edition of The Knowledge is required reading. It also reveals who the lowest-ranked English-based World Cup 2018 player is while Rob Smyth busts the Italia 90 Dave Beasant myth.


Now you might think Jordan Henderson’s ability to nullify Luka Modric, Kieran Trippier’s explosive runs from right wing-back or Dele Alli’s knack of arriving in the box with impeccable timing might determine whether England make it to the World Cup final by beating Cratia tonight. But we all know it will come down to the Jagger Jinx. If the Rolling Stones frontman turns up in Moscow tonight, England are doomed. He did for Belgium’s hopes last night and he did for Brazil’s in 2014 too. Poor Mick’s even be blamed for obliterating Australia’s hopes of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup because his former partner, Jerry Hall, turned up at that one. Here’s a piece from 2014 explaining the Jagger Jinx.


And having looked at the shimmering list of players who have won the World Cup and European Cup in the same year, what about those who have lost a European Cup final and World Cup final within the space of a couple of months.

The only one I can recall is Michael Ballack, who lost the European Cup final with Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and then went on to lose the World Cup final with Germany when Ronaldo tore them apart for Brazil. Players who could get to experience that acute misery on Sunday are England’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson, or Croatia’s Dejan Lovren, all of whom experienced defeat for Liverpool against Real Madrid in Kiev. Any more to join Ballack? Let me know.

Stat time! If Raphael Varane goes on to win the World Cup he will join an exclusive group of players who have won the European Cup and World Cup in the same year. There are 10 at the moment. Here they are:

Uli Hoeness, Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Sepp Maier and Jupp Kapellmann (Bayern Munich and Germany 1974)

Christian Karembeu (Real Madrid and France 1998 ), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid and Brazil 2002) and Sami Khedira (Real Madrid and Germany 2014)

Raphael Varane
Raphael Varane could complete a first XI of World Cup and Champions League winners in the same year. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA


Sachin Nakrani has been busy crunching the numbers at Guardian Towers to work out just where England rank in this World Cup. One of the best stats in this piece is not even England-related. It shows that Spain players still boss the passes completed section thanks to shuffling a million passes sideways and backwards in the last 16 against Russia.

Amar Breckenridge believes a Belgian coach’s influence on Didier Deschamps might explain why the France team are playing such functional but successful football in Russia. “Didier Deschamps’s major achievements in France were winning the inaugural Champions League with Marseille in 1993 ( the first and only time a French club has won the title) and the World Cup in 1998 and Euros in 2000. All these were won on the back of iron discipline. In Marseille’s case that was masterminded by Belgian coach Raymond Goethals - nicknamed ‘La Science’ - and it’s hard not to see the late Goethal’s influence last night against, ironically, his homeland. And for all that we remember the exploits of Zinedine Zidane for France, the basis of France’s success was their defence – Blanc, Thuram, Lizarezu and Desailly, with Deschamps in front of them. France never lost when that back four played together. Given that background, Deschamps would never become the exponent of expansive play. Once derided by Eric Cantona as Zidane’s ‘water-carrier’, Deschamps is banking on his calculated approach to take France to a second title.”

Raymond Goethals
Raymond Goethals looking very much like Mark E Smith. Photograph: Getty Images


Jorge Valdano has penned some brilliant columns for the Guardian during the World Cup and his latest, on Luka Modric, is another wonderful piece of writing, getting to the heart of what it is hat makes the Croatia captain so damn good at football. Here’s an extract:

When the ball passes by his feet, the play flows as if football was the easiest thing in the world. It’s not about adding intensity or danger to the move; it’s about adding sense, clarity, intent. At a World Cup at which it seems like spaces are disappearing – which is strange, considering the pitch still measures 100 x 70 – and everyone who gets the ball seems to be in a hurry, as if the entire pitch was penalty area, Modric performs the miracle of allowing the move to breathe, giving the ball the necessary speed, wherever it is on the field. Suddenly, we discover space and time do exist and that all that was needed was someone with the talent to bring them back, to make them what they always were. Someone who knows how to play football. Or better still, PLAY FOOTBALL in capital letters.


More on the question of whether the FA has fixed English football. Here’s Luke Harrison: “I am with Chaps on this.... Somehow the FA has done something right with St George’s Park which does seem to be working. Evidenced by consensus on this article and by winning two (TWO!!!) youth World Cups last year. I agree that the appointment of Southgate was accidentally visionary but I think the future of English football is bright. So much so that I am almost hoping we don’t win this world cup so we can really win it in style in four or eight years time. Having said that, my confidence in the FA is such that I would not be surprised if they find a way to mess the whole thing up.”

I’d agree that the youth World Cup wins are a huge indicator of progress being made in English football development. There is still the thorny issue of whether those players who have done so well at development level can break into their respective club sides’ first teams, though. That Trent Alexander-Arnold has done so well at Liverpool is a good sign but if a player such as Phil Foden, who appears to be an incredible talent, can somehow become a Manchester City first-team regular, then the prospects are good. His career could still stall, though. Look at Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who can’t break into the team at Chelsea despite a couple of seasons knocking on the door. The Premier League could still ruin all the FA’s good work. Good old Premier League.

A bit of World Cup-related transfer news now. Liverpool are hopeful of wrapping up a £13m deal for Stoke and Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri, aka the Powercube, before Jürgen Klopp heads off to the United States with his Liverpool squad on 22 July for a pre-season tour. Here’s our man on Merseyside, Andy Hunter, with the story.


You know the nation has lost the run of itself when there is an entire podcast dedicated to deconstructing Three Lions to understand its perennial popularity. Here’s what musician Anthony T Jackson makes of the Lightning Seeds’ song:

There’s a lovely moment towards the end of the bridge - the section just before the final chorus - where the songwriters leave us on that C7 chord - the chord that previously has taken us both to the F minor tonality of the verses and the major tonality of the triumphant choruses. It lingers tantalisingly, followed only by a reprise of the quiet, unassertive introductory music. It’s the closest they could have come, I think, to simply leaving the song at that. They had to finish with repeated choruses, given the song’s brief as a popular anthem, but that moment - lingering on the chord that for the rest of the song leads one of two ways, pain or glory - is almost as if they wanted to leave the question of defeat or vic