11 July 2018

Nigeria: Croatia's Elegance Meets English Pragmatism As Fans Stretch Luzhniki Stadium's Capacity

St. Petersburg, Russia — It is the battle of two sides with different approaches to the game, yet any of the two that survives today's battle is capable of going all the way to win the trophy on Sunday. Croatia has been credited with the best midfield in this World Cup with its captain, Luka Modric, likely to win the ballon d'Or if he led the team from the former Yugoslavia to win its first crown.

In England some of the hardest battlers are ready to go for as long as a game lasts to gain victory. The Three Lions, led by Gareth Southgate, has surprised many with its grit and determination to rise above its shortcomings in skill in its search for its first title since 1966. When you add the number of partisan fans that have arrived in Moscow to cheer their teams to success, it becomes clear that this match, which kicks off 7:00 p.m. Nigeria time, will present a spectacle never seen of a contest involving an English side for a long time.

The venue, Luzhniki Stadium, which has a total seating capacity of 81,000, will be filled to the brim as the fans of both countries have invaded the Moscow to be part of this game.

Yesterday, the Russian authorities had a running battle with beer-seeking English fans, who didn't understand why the country should ban consumption of alcohol after 10.00 p.m. It took a special concession from the Moscow authorities before bars opened for the English to have their way. Reports say that about 10,000 fans from England arrived in Moscow on Monday and yesterday with more expected to arrive today. These would join those already following the Three Lions to all their games.

When Croatia beat Nigeria in Kaliningrad early in the competition, 70 per cent of the 31,136 fans inside the stadium were Croats, who drove from their country for the game. Since then, the population of ticket carrying Croats have increased such that FIFA has had to ration tickets to ensure that other fans have access to the matches involving their countries. And so, while the match would be on inside the pitch, there would also be a battle of voices in the stands.

As reported by the English press, the Three Lions fans have chosen to wear waistcoats for today's match in tribute to Gareth Southgate, who has taken to wearing a waistcoat on the touch-line along with suit trousers and a dress shirt and tie. Today has been dubbed "waistcoat Wednesday.'

According to reports, sales of waistcoats have soared in Britain since the start of the tournament last month, according to one retailer.

"Gareth's sideline style has meant our waistcoats are really scoring with our customers, with sales doubling since the World Cup began," said a spokeswoman for retailer Marks & Spencer.

Where and how would the battle be fought? Croatia has a generation of players in their prime, who see this competition as their last possible opportunity to win the world's most coveted football trophy.

The midfield of Ivan Pericic (29), Ivan Rakatic (30) and Luka Modric (32) has dominated all the games it played, just as Juventus striker, Mario Mandzukic (32) has done well in leading the attack.

While Gareth Southgate has put together a team cohesive in all its parts, with striker Harry Kane as the only standout star heading into the tournament, Croatia has shown that it can hold its nerves when the chips are down with two consecutive penalty-kick wins here.

Controversial referee, Cuneyt Cakir of Turkey, who officiated in Nigeria's 1-2 loss to Argentina, will handle the game, which is his second straight World Cup semifinal match, after Argentina's penalty-kick win over the Netherland four years ago.

This match has been dubbed the battle of youth versus experience with England' young guns battling with Croatia's experience campaigners.

It is also seen as a battle between Harry Kane and Dejan Lovren, who have met in several big games between Liverpool and Tottenham in the English Premiership. Kane has scored five times in five meetings with Lovren and will relish another battle with the Liverpool defender, who has managed to shut out Lionel Messi in this competition. Kane has five goals already here and will cement his claim for the golden boot if he manages a couple today.


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