HurriKane vs Lucky Luka in Moscow showdown

Key men: Modrić has made four times more appearances for Croatia than Kane has for England.

Who is going to win tonight’s World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia? The answer may lie with the two captains, Harry Kane and Luka Modrić. And they have very different stories…

There are 13 Englishmen for every Croatian. England has existed continuously for over a thousand years; Croatia recently celebrated 27 years of independence. Premier League stars are paid up to £20 million per year, while the average player in the Croatian league earns £45,000 per year.

But despite the vast gap in resources, pundits and fans are struggling to split England and Croatia ahead of tonight’s World Cup semi-final in Moscow.

Much of that is due to Luka Modrić, Croatia’s captain and midfield maestro.

Modrić’s story reflects a nation born from a not-so-distant conflict. When he was just six years old, his life was rocked when his grandfather was killed by Serbian militiamen.

The youngster was forced to live life as a refugee in his homeland. He started playing football in the parking lot of the hotel he lived in.

Having been rejected by Croatian powerhouse Hajduk Split for being too light, he was signed by their rivals, Dinamo Zagreb. At the age of 23, he secured his big move to Tottenham Hotspur, before moving onto Real Madrid for £30 million four years later.

An elegant playmaker, Modrić has been described as a “puppet master”. England will have to stop him to have much chance of winning.

A year after Modrić signed for Tottenham, a 17-year-old boy from up the road in Chingford made his debut for the club. This, of course, was Harry Kane.

Kane’s suburban upbringing had none of the trauma of Modrić’s early years, but he too endured struggles on his way to the top.

Like Modrić, he was initially rejected by a rival — in this case Arsenal, for being “a bit chubby” and not “very athletic”.

His footballing education came while out on loan from the Spurs in England’s lower leagues.

Then, in 2014, came the transformation. He became ruthless, stronger, and developed, in the words of Alan Shearer, a “natural ability to get goals”. The England captain now looks on course to win the Golden Boot at this World Cup.

Will it be technically-gifted, Modrić-inspired Croatia or Kane’s young, razor-sharp England who get through to the final?

Two games from glory

England. They have gradually improved as the tournament has progressed. Their set-pieces will bamboozle Croatia, who will be tired after going through two penalty shootouts. Their pace will be too much for Croatia’s defence. And in Kane, they have one of the game’s most lethal finishers.

Croatia. They are unlike the other sides England have faced. Croatia will look to dominate the ball, and England have always struggled against possession football. Modrić and his teammates will have England chasing shadows. And they have proved they can keep their cool by winning two penalty shootouts.

You Decide

  1. Who will win: England or Croatia?
  2. Is this England’s biggest sporting event in your lifetime?

Activities

  1. Predict tonight’s result, including the goalscorers. Put them in an envelope, and open them tomorrow to see who got closest.
  2. Write a profile of another player from either England or Croatia who you expect to be crucial tonight.

Some People Say...

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”

William Arthur Ward

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Croatia face England tonight in the second World Cup semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where the winner will return for the final on Sunday to face France. England have won the World Cup only once, in 1966. Croatia have never even made the final. We know that both teams would be underdogs should they make the final.
What do we not know?
Who will win. England are narrow favourites with bookmakers, who give them roughly a 60% chance of going through. We do not know how tired both teams will be after a gruelling month at the World Cup, following a long club season. And we do not know whether it will be Kane, Modrić, or someone else who is the game’s best player.

Word Watch

13 Englishmen for every Croatian
The population of England is 53 million; the population of Croatia is 4.17 million.
27 years of independence
This is when Croatia in its current form became an independent country, but the Duchy of Croatia was first formed in the 9th century. Croatia spent much of its history under Austrian, Italian or Hungarian rule.
Conflict
The Croatian War of Independence raged from 1991 until 1995 as Croatia sought to break away from Yugoslavia. One of the key events that provoked the conflict was a riot between fans of Dinamo Zagreb and Serbian club Red Star Belgrade.
Dinamo Zagreb
The club is renowned for its youth academy. Fourteen of Croatia’s 23-man squad have passed through the club at some point.
On loan
When a club lends a player to another team, often in order to give a young player experience.
England’s lower leagues
Kane spent time at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester.
Alan Shearer
The highest scorer in Premier League history and a former England striker.
Golden Boot
The prize given to the player who scores the most goals at the World Cup. Kane currently leads the way with six goals.