Repino: As excitement builds in England in the run-up to the country’s first World Cup semifinal for 28 years, midfielder Dele Alli insists Gareth Southgate’s team are keeping a cool head in their tournament ‘bubble’.
England’s matches so far in Russia have attracted huge television audiences at home and wild celebrations, with affable coach Gareth Southgate and his vibrant young squad capturing the hearts of a nation.
In sharp contrast to the feverish atmosphere, Alli and his teammates are in relaxed mood in the sleepy seaside resort of Repino, 45 kilometres (28 miles) northwest of St Petersburg.
“You are in your own little bubble when you are here – training camp, coming back, getting ready for the next game. It is not until you look at social media and the internet that you realise how big it (the semifinal) is,” Alli said Monday.
“Obviously we know we are playing in the World Cup semifinal. We are so focused on the game that we have forgotten what we have done so far. It is important that we stay like that, keep going and hopefully we achieve something to make it even more special to get to the final and win it.”
Alli scored his first World Cup goal as England cruised into the last four Saturday with a 2-0 win over Sweden.
A much tougher test is expected in Moscow against a Croatia side that swept past Argentina in the group stages and boast the midfield talents of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona.
But while many pundits and even England fans are surprised by their progress, Alli said the squad always believed they could go far. “We had to believe and we know how talented we are as a squad,” Alli asserted.
The calmness in England’s camp on and off the field is in stark contrast to Croatia’s experience.
In the latest in a series of controversies, former international Ognjen Vukojevic was kicked out of their delegation Monday and fined by FIFA for posting a pro-Ukraine video clip following their penalty shootout victory Saturday over Russia.
Defender Domagoj Vida, who scored against Russia, escaped with just a warning from FIFA, which bans political statements, for also appearing in the video and shouting “Glory to Ukraine!”
Despite that, Modric’s three man of the match performances and two winning penalties from Rakitic in shootout wins over Denmark and Russia have seen them match Croatia’s best-ever World Cup performance 20 years ago in France.