Luka Modric celebrates after Croatia sealed a spot in the World Cup semi-finals.
Luka Modric celebrates after Croatia sealed a spot in the World Cup semi-finals.

Pressure is on: Modric shines spotlight on Croatia

CROATIA'S population may pale in comparison, but superstar Luka Modric declared that they are carrying as much pressure as England to reach the Russia 2018 final.

World Cup stars on either side will be given until the last-minute to prove their fitness ahead of the Luzhniki Stadium showdown, with both teams set to lift the training intensity today after barely getting out of first gear since Sunday.

England, which boasts a population of 67 million and rising, holds a special place in world soccer history, while Croatia only won independence in 1991.

Despite a population of 4.1 million, Croatia has qualified for 10 of 12 major tournaments with a second semi-final effort to go along with their maiden 1998 World Cup appearance.

"With England there's always pressure. Same with us - pressure on both teams to reach the final. Maybe a bit more on them,'' Modric said.

"But we also have pressure, and we want to take that pressure and we know what Croatia is expecting from us. More important, what we are expecting from (ourselves).

"They're looking strong as a team, they have this togetherness which is very important to success. It's two good teams that are playing well."

Croatia's fans celebrate victory against Russia.
Croatia's fans celebrate victory against Russia.

Jordan Henderson looks set to overcome a tight hamstring, although manager Gareth Southgate will continue to monitor the Liverpool midfielder, who came off in the 85th minute of England's win over Sweden.

Tottenham's Eric Dier is on standby if Henderson fails a fitness test, with Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (groin) also under a cloud.

Atletico Madrid right-back Sime Vrsaljko (knee) was one of the casualties of Croatia's second extra-time outing in as many games, limping off in the 97th minute of the win over Russia.

Both teams are feeling the effects of the quick turnaround from the high-octane games, despite resting a host of stars in their respective final group games.

"We'll just have to assess (players) as we go. Hendo was feeling tightness in his hamstring, which was why we made the change,'' Southgate said.

"We'll just have to assess the bodies. They've been through a lot, you get an accumulation of fatigue through a tournament."

Eric Dier, whose penalty against Colombia secured victory for England, is in line to start if Jordan Henderson fails to prove his fitness. Pic: Getty
Eric Dier, whose penalty against Colombia secured victory for England, is in line to start if Jordan Henderson fails to prove his fitness. Pic: Getty

Croatia's Danijel Subasic (Monaco), who's been one of the World Cup's top shot-stoppers with four saves in the two shootout wins, has been rehabilitating his hamstring after cramping up late in the quarter-final win but is expected to start.

Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic is also expected to recover in time, after collapsing moments before the shootout.

"It's a semi-final, we will find extra motivation, extra strength, extra everything what is necessary for this kind of game," Modric said.

Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozovic's is a possible midfield inclusion if Zlatko Dalic opts to freshen up his squad, while Vedran Corluka would be Vrsaljko's likely replacement.