England fans ready to roar Gareth Southgate's young lions into World Cup final
England will come to a standstill tonight for the biggest football match in 28 years.
Gareth Southgate’s Lions will face Croatia in the World Cup semi-final – in front of a record TV audience, expected to hit more than 37 million.
If that happens, it will break the existing record for a sporting event - 32 million for the 1966 World Cup final.
Traffic on roads across the Black Country and Staffordshire will drop to a trickle as people tune in to watch the massive game.
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Living rooms, pubs and outdoor events will be filled with nerves and excitement as the country dares to dream.
And with the weather forecast to stay hot and dry, a party atmosphere will be ignited IF the team gets through.
When is the match?
The semi-final between England and Croatia will take place at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, starting at 7pm.
The match is being screened on ITV from 6pm. The winner will face France in Sunday's final, after they beat Belgium 1-0 last night.
Gareth Southgate has faith in players
On the eve of the match, Gareth Southgate expressed pride in the unifying power of England’s World Cup adventure and said he has faith that his team will perform against Croatia.
“Football is a low scoring game with random events that can happen, but I’m certain our team will play well," the manager said.
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"I have complete trust they’ll go and play in the way they have throughout this tournament.”
The Three Lions manager gave another masterclass in easy-going charm in a packed media conference at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium – cheerily answering on a range of topics.
They included his team’s use of a rubber chicken during Tuesday’s training session in Repino, the cultural phenomenon that his waistcoat and the inescapable chants of “football’s coming home”.
“Football’s coming home…I couldn’t listen to it for 20 years, frankly,” said Southgate of the 1996 track by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds.
Southgate's missed penalty provided the final nail in England's Euro '96 coffin and remains England’s last act in the last four of a tournament until kick-off on Wednesday night.
“I would just walk out of the room, it is an anthem and has followed the team for a long time but it’s involved some difficult moments as well. I don’t choose to stick it on, it’s not on the playlist, but I can listen to it.
“It has a slightly different feel for me, but it’s nice to hear people enjoying it again. It is nice to be able to put a different frame on it now. I still look back on it as an incredible life experience and to be involved with it, I just needed a bit of time to get over it.”
The England boss drew parallels between the class of ’96 and his current generation, noting similarities but also the current squad’s relative inexperience.
“The feel of this group of players is very similar to the players we had then,” he said.
“But that team was a lot more experienced in terms of its age and experience of big matches. We have emerging leaders. At that time, the team had six captains of their clubs. There was a lot of leadership in the group.
“But we’ve approached it the same way, a lot of guys enjoying our football. That is what these guys have done. It’s another step in a journey. We feel we’re in a good place playing well."
England heroes back Gareth Southgate's team to triumph
England’s World Cup-winning hero Sir Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-rick in the 1966 final, says England can win the tournament.
Sir Geoff, who has compared the current side to the 1966 team, said: “They clearly have a winning mentality.
“They are young, fearless, probably not as aware as we were of the magnitude of the occasion. They are just enjoying it.”
Wolves and England legend Steve Bull, who was part of the 1990 World Cup squad which lost on penalties in the semi-final, said: “We’re in a position where we have a great chance of winning the World Cup.
WATCH Steve Bull score his first goal for England:
But first we must get over Croatia, who are will be a tough team – but the team is getting better and better.
“And I’m sure they will have 1990 in the back of their minds and will not want the game to last so long. They’ll give it 200 per cent.”
Also at Italia 90 was Halesowen-born Glen Kirton, who sat alongside Sir Bobby Robson pitchside at the semi-final against West Germany.
The former Football Association press officer said: “We’re in with a great chance. This team has got everyone believing, it is special feeling which has brought football players and the country together again.”
Some people are even pre-empting an England World Cup winning, calling for a bank holiday on Monday if the trophy is lifted.
More than 100,000 people have signed the petition which will now be debated in Parliament by MPs.
Who’s who in our England Expects photo?
Top row, left to right:
- Jimmy Mullen, England 1947-54, Caps: 12, Goals: 6, Club: Wolves
- Steve Bull, England 1989-90, Caps: 13, Goals: 4, Club: Wolves
- Jake Livermore, England 2012-17, Caps: 7, Goals: 0, Club: Albion
- Gareth Southgate, England 1995-2002, Caps: 57, Goals: 2, Club: Villa
- David Platt, England 1989-96, Caps: 62, Goals: 27, Club: Villa
- Gareth Barry, England 2000-12, Caps: 53, Goals: 3, Clubs: Villa, Albion
- Bert Williams, England 1949-55, Caps: 24, Goals: 0, Club: Wolves
Middle row, left to right:
- Ben Foster, England 2007-14, Caps: 8, Goals: 0, Club: Albion
- Billy Wright, England 1946-59, Caps: 105, Goals: 3, Club: Wolves
- Stan Cullis, England 1937-39, Caps: 12, Goals: 0, Club: Wolves
- Duncan Edwards, England 1955-57, Caps: 18, Goals: 5, Club: Manchester United
- Gordon Cowans, England 1983-90, Caps: 10, Goals: 2, Club: Villa
- Bryan Robson, England 1980-91, Caps: 90, Goals: 26, Club: Albion
- Ron Flowers, England 1955-66, Caps: 49, Goals: 10, Club: Wolves
Bottom row, left to right:
- Bill Slater, England 1954-60, Caps: 12, Goals: 0, Club: Wolves
- Cyrille Regis, England 1982-87, Caps: 5, Goals: 0, Club: Albion, Villa, Wolves
- Jeff Astle, England 1969-70, Caps: 5, Goals: 0, Club: Albion
- Bobby Robson, England 1957-62, Caps: 20, Goals: 4, Club: Albion