England fans ought to be thankful that their youthful squad has exceeded expectations during this epic World Cup. Who would have imagined this rendition of the Three Lions, the third-youngest squad in the tournament, being on the cusp of a World Cup final? Having played five matches in Russia, the team has grown some facial hair under cool and dapper manager Gareth Southgate, who has his team on the verge of advancing to the final for the first time since 1966, the year England took the crown on home soil.
But Croatia — in its first semifinal since 1998, which was its first World Cup as an independent nation — stands in the way. Wednesday’s winner advances to play France in the final in Moscow on Sunday. England hardly seems fazed — not too much, anyway — and ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop believes there’s a reason for that.
“Having lived in England and having witnessed the emergence of the Premier League and the emergence of black players, to see where the [national team] is now and how those players have been accepted and have been integrated into the squad and have become a truer representation of England as a society has been great,” Hislop said in his latest commentary for The Undefeated. “And to see this team winning together, losing together, celebrating together and growing together, I think as a result of all this, I’ve put them as favorites going into this game against Croatia.”
England and Croatia have no World Cup history together, having never met in World Cup play. England has won four of their seven meetings all-time, including a 4-2 win during the 2004 European Championship. But none of that matters, and Hislop believes the Lions have it all working at the right time.
“This England team has impressed me with everything they’ve done, from beginning to end. We’ve seen some good England teams in the past, with some outstanding players, but as a team, this team has surpassed all that have come before them.”
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