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Remembering the four-year period Croatia were England’s biggest international rivals

The two footballing giants will meet in the semi-final of the World Cup on Wednesday

You can stop pinching yourself now, because England are definitely through to the semi-final of the World Cup.

The lads overcome a resilient Sweden on Saturday to book their place in the last four of the tournament, and quite frankly we’re chuffed to bits.

Gareth Southgate is set to stay on as England manager until the next World Cup

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Gareth Southgate has got us dreaming

Gareth Southgate’s lads will face Croatia for a place in the final, after they struggled to overcome Russia in their quarter-final clash – eventually needing a penalty shootout to seal their place.

None of us are particularly sure how to feel about Croatia.

After all, they utterly destroyed Argentina in their group clash earlier in the tournament, but required penalties to overcome the likes of Denmark and Russia in the latter stages.

What’s more, the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric mildly terrify us, but the thought of Harry Kane up against Dejan Lovren balances it out somewhat.

Yikes

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Yikes

But for many of you, England facing Croatia will perhaps bring back some mixed emotions.

It might be surprising to hear, but the two nations were once huge rivals on the international stage.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The bad old days

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The bad old days

Back in 2006, England were going through a transitional phase.

The so-called Golden Generation had flopped at Euro 2004 and the recent World Cup, which saw Sven-Goran Eriksson pack his bags and David Beckham step down as captain.

Steven McClaren was given the big job in mid-2006 and John Terry was made captain, while the future was pinned firmly on Wayne Rooney.

The Three Lions were drawn into qualifying Group E for Euro 2008, with the likes of Croatia, Russia and Israel seen as their biggest opponents.

Quite frankly, we were all pretty expectant.

You’d put your trust in this lot, right?

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You’d put your trust in this lot, right?

But let’s be honest, England were rubbish under McClaren.

The writing was on the wall after only a couple of qualifiers, when England narrowly beat Macedonia 1-0 before being held to a disappointing 0-0 at Old Trafford.

But the sucker punch came days later in Zagreb.

Sigh, so young

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Sigh, so young

Looking back, we were always somewhat fond of goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

He was solid, confident and seemingly an upgrade on David James.

But all of that ended when a back-pass from Gary Neville alluded the Spurs goalie as the ball struck a bobble on the pitch and rolled into the back of his net.

McClaren had underestimated Croatia, and his brave new era was coming apart at the seams with the 2-0 defeat.

[facepalm]

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[facepalm]
But perhaps we’re being too harsh on Croatia.

While England were a mixture of stalwarts like Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, mixed with youngsters such as Shaun Wright-Phillips and Theo Walcott, Croatia had the building blocks of a formidable young team with plenty of raw talent.

Brazilian born striker Eduardo da Silva – who later joined Arsenal – was backed up by future Premier League stars like Niko Kranjcar, Vedran Corluka and a fresh-faced Luka Modric.

Coaching these future stars was none other than Slaven Bilic.

Rock star

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Rock star

By the time England faced Croatia for the final qualifying match a year later, they were in real trouble.

Croatia were guaranteed group winners, while Russia looked poised for the runners-up spot.

A defeat to Russia the month before – courtesy of two goals from Roman Pavlyuchenko – meant England needed to beat Croatia to secure their place at Euro 2008.

You know the rest, don’t you?

Scott Carson was placed in goal, fumbled Kranjcar’s effort and allowed Ivica Olic to slip home in an eventual 3-2 defeat.

Can we wipe this from our memory?

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Can we wipe this from our memory?

Croatia made the most of their place at Euro 2008, topping Group B ahead of Germany, Poland and Austria, while the world finally saw the brilliance of Modric first-hand.

Returning home as quarter-finalists, they once again faced England in their qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup.

Reigniting their rivalry – with England under Fabio Capello – revenge came in 4-1 win in Zagreb nearly two years after their embarrassing defeat, with Walcott the hat-trick hero.

Justice

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Justice

It got even better for England fans a year later, when they thrashed Bilic’s side 5-1 at Wembley to secure qualification for the World Cup in South Africa, while Croatia fell behind Ukraine in the group.

Of course, England’s World Cup campaign was woeful – to say the least – but we’ll always have Capello to thank for helping us overcome our Croatian rivals, who were deemed a bigger scalp than the likes of Scotland and Germany in that four-year period.