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England thrive in their ‘bubble’

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England midfielder Dele Alli (rear centre) looks on as teammates play around with a rubber chicken in a training session in Repino, an area of St Petersburg, on Tuesday. AFP

England thrive in their ‘bubble’

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 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 on Monday.

“Obviously we know we are playing in the World Cup, in the semifinal. 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 night (at !am Cambodian time)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 Barcelona.

Croatia defy controversy

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 fitness.

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 France.

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 dream.

“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.”

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