Having secured their last-four spot earlier in the day courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Sweden, the Three Lions would have been interested spectators as Russia and Croatia met in Sochi.
So often the surprise package in this World Cup – beating 2010 winners Spain from the spot in the last 16 – Russia went in front with a bolt from the blue after 31 minutes; Denis Cheryshev taking advantage of some suspect keeping from Danijel Subašić to steer home a dipping effort from 25 yards.
And that was the way it stayed until the 100th minute when Domagoj Vida gave Croatia the lead for the first time.
However, with time running out Russia forced penalties when Mário Fernandes took advantage of slack marking to meet substitute Alan Dzagoev‘s free-kick and head into the far corner of the net five minutes from the end.
West Ham United transfer target Fedor Smolov missed Russia’s first penalty, handing Croatia the initiative. Although Mateo Kovačić saw a week effort pushed around the post by Russian captain Igor Akinfeev, Croatia triumphed after Fernandes, previously the hero, dragged his kick horribly wide.
Here are five things we learned from the game….
England can be relieved to avoid hosts
Croatia were the better team for the majority of this game. But, not for the first time, they were unable to ram home their superiority and struggled with the ‘favourites’ tag.
Zlatko Dalić’s side have failed to hit the heights they soared to in defeating Argentina 3-0 in Group D, a result which saw them tipped as dark horses to win the World Cup.
And while it’s churlish to take anything away from a team which has now come through two penalty shoot-outs to reach the last four, they have not convinced at any point since dispatching with what we now know to be a very poor Argentina side.
Russia, meanwhile, have punched above their weight from the outset and that crushing 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. Dubbed ‘The worst Russian team of all time’ prior to the tournament, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have far exceeded expectations in making it this far and always found a way.
They looked dead and buried after Vida’s extra-time header and yet kept the dream alive with a last-gasp Fernandes header. With a vociferous native crowd behind them they would have been unenviable semi-final opponents for England and one Southgate won’t be disappointed to avoid.
Modrić remains one of the world’s best
It’s far from an original observation but the diminutive Real Madrid orchestrator is a genius. In a star-studded Los Blancos side his unfussy displays allow the bigger names to flourish.
For Croatia, he is the biggest name – even among this talented generation – but he remains the beating heart of the side. Everything good Croatia did came through the midfield metronome who pulled the strings tirelessly throughout 120 minutes.
No-one got near the 89 passes the former Tottenham man completed with Barcelona‘s Rakitić the closest on 80. For Russia, no-one managed more than centre-back Sergei Ignashevich (34) which gives an indicator of their problems.
Four of Modrić’s passes were ‘Key Passes’ – leading to a shot – while he completed more dribbles (8) and had more shots (3) than anyone else on either side. At 32 he is still one of the world’s best in his possession and was without equal in Sochi.
Russia struggle to get into Croatian box
With just 400 completed passes to Croatia’s 730 and 629 touches to their opponents’ 1,003, it was not hard to see where the hosts fell down.
Totem-pole forward Artem Dyzuba has been a revelation at this World Cup, displacing Smolov after scoring twice in the opening-round win over Saudi Arabia and, while he works tirelessly to lead the line, he can do little without the required service.
Against Croatia, he was starved of that and had just five touches in the penalty area before being replaced 11 minutes from time.
His touch map (above, courtesy of WhoScored.com) highlights his lack of joy in the penalty area and although he won more aerial duels than any Russian player (5) only one was in the penalty area.
For a player of 6ft 5ins who has already demonstrated his aerial prowess at this tournament that is a criminal waste of his talents.
Domagoj Vida made for the Premier League
Long before he met Modrić’s corner ten minutes into extra time to steer Croatia into the lead for the first time the 29-year-old had impressed for Dalić’s men – as he has done throughout the tournament.
Reportedly an Everton transfer target already, the Beşiktaş defender will not be short of offers this summer when he returns to club matters.
Strong, aggressive and good in the air – winning four aerial duels – Vida had averaged six interceptions per 90 at the World Cup, the 17th-most by a centre-half. He’d also won 11 aerial duels per 90, putting him 21st among his defensive peers.
Impressively his 67 passes were also the fourth-most for any Croatian player on the night.
The Toffees are in dire need of a centre-back with the haphazard Ashley Williams (33) and Phil Jagielka (35) both very much of ‘veteran’ status while £25million man Michael Keane endured a nightmarish first season on Merseyside.
Vida could be just the tonic for new boss Marco Silva.
Subašić there to be got at in semi-final
Hero of the last-16 win over Denmark after saving three penalties, the Croatian keeper did not enjoy his best night against Russia and England boss Southgate will doubtless be devising a plan for the stopper.
His part in Cheryshev’s stunning opener was subject of heated debate in the ITV studio at half time with Gary Neville adamant the Monaco man could, and should, have done more to keep the strike out.
Subašić was caught out horribly from a positional point of view with Cheryshev’s strike – while aesthetically pleasing, at least – curling comfortably inside the post at a height the 33-year-old could have reached.
In mitigation, he could have been surprised by how early the Villarreal midfielder let fly, but he did not cover himself in glory, watching as the ball dipped below the crossbar and sailed past him.
The Croatian No.23 later picked up a hamstring injury preventing a corner but, after receiving treatment, played on – despite a fourth substitute being permitted at the start of extra time.
Expect Harry Kane to try his luck from the word ‘Go’ on Wednesday evening.