England thrive in SWC 'bubble' ahead of Croatia semi
Dele Alli (Getty)
Repino - As excitement builds in England in the run-up to
the country's first Soccer World Cup semi-final for 28 years, midfielder Dele
Alli insists Gareth Southgate's team are keeping a cool head in their
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
team-mates are in relaxed mood in the sleepy seaside resort of Repino, 45
kilometres northwest of Saint Petersburg.
"You are in your own little bubble when 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 is," Alli said
"Obviously we know we are playing in the World Cup, in
the semi-final. We are so focused on the games that you forget 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 with a 2-0 win over Sweden on Saturday.
A much tougher test is expected in Moscow on Wednesday
against a Croatia side that swept past Argentina in the group stages and boasts
the midfield talents of Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic of
But while many pundits and even England fans are surprised
by their progress, Alli says the squad always believed they could go far.
"We had to believe and we know how talented we are as a
squad," he added. "We know we have some unbelievable players and a
great manager and everyone is clear on what we want to do.
"When you have such a solid foundation, you have the
basics and clear understanding of what we want to do and achieve, it's not a
surprise that it's going well for us."
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 on Monday and
fined by FIFA for posting a pro-Ukraine video clip following their penalty
shootout victory over Russia on Saturday.
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!"
Earlier in the tournament, AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic
was sent home, reportedly over a disagreement with coach Zlatko Dalic about his
Croatia's build-up to the tournament was overshadowed by the
graft trial of former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic and charges against
captain Modric for alleged false testimony in that case.
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
Physical exertions to reach the last four could take their
toll but Dalic believes his side will have the energy reserves to end England's
"Of course there is some power left for the
English," said Dalic. It will be a battle again but I trust us. I have
belief in us."