Friday 26 April 2019

England fans spend £30m in semi-final dash

Dele Alli will be hoping to get the better of Luka Modric again when England take on Croatia tomorrow night. Photo: Getty Images
Dele Alli will be hoping to get the better of Luka Modric again when England take on Croatia tomorrow night. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Law in Moscow

England supporters could spend as much as £30m to cheer on the team against Croatia tomorrow night.

The English FA is expecting an influx of 10,000 fans into Moscow for the semi-final.

Tickets were still available for about £650 on the internet yesterday, although that figure will rise as the match approaches. Together with flights and accommodation, some supporters face a bill of about £3,000 to watch the match.

The fans who can afford to make the last-minute dash to Moscow are set to find unlikely allies when they arrive.

Many locals were annoyed after Croatia defender Domagoj Vida and scout Ognjen Vukojevic filmed themselves in the dressing room after the victory over Russia celebrating and shouting "Glory to Ukraine".

Vukojevic was sacked, while Vida escaped with a warning after apologising for the incident, insisting it was a joke.

Jordan Henderson trained yesterday, despite suffering a tight hamstring against Sweden, and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has recovered from a sore thumb. Jamie Vardy is fit to take a place on the substitutes' bench, with Gareth Southgate set to name the same team.

luka Modric will not want to be reminded of his past two meetings with Dele Alli. The most recent ended in a Champions League defeat in which the 22-year-old scored twice, while the first produced a rare moment of embarrassment for one of Europe's most accomplished midfielders.

Alli could not suppress a chuckle when reminded of the night, when he was 19 and fresh from his final season at MK Dons, that he nutmegged Modric during a pre-season Audi Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid in the Allianz Arena.

Modric might not find it quite so funny, despite shaking Dele by the hand after the game and calling Tottenham's £5m signing "a little bugger".

"I remember it," said Alli with a wide smile. "I always enjoy a good nutmeg.

"I didn't shout megs, though. I have never done that, even in training. Some people, when they nutmeg (someone), they call it, but it's never been something I've done."


Alli would love to make it a hat-trick of moments Modric would rather forget in tomorrow's World Cup semi-final, when England take on Croatia.

Asked if, given the chance, he would look to nutmeg Croatia's star man again, Alli replied: "Hopefully. I'm not going to focus on that, but it would be nice!"

So, if the Moscow semi-final promises to be the most glamorous occasion of Alli's career, then what was the least?

The answer, it transpires, also includes a certain Jordan Pickford, who was playing in goal for Bradford City.

Alli scored against Bradford and Pickford six months before his first meeting with Modric, but does not remember the game fondly.

"It was a night game, the pitch was horrible and it was a horrible game," he said. "They had (James) Hanson up front, they were very aggressive and it wasn't a nice experience.

"Every time I got the ball, people would be kicking and swearing. It was an aggressive game. I'd signed for Tottenham already, but I was on loan at MK Dons. When I went back to Tottenham, they were telling me they'd watched the game and I was just thinking, 'Oh no'."

Pickford is not the only member of the England squad on whom Alli managed to get one over while he was with MK Dons. Danny Welbeck was in the Manchester United team beaten 4-0 by MK Dons in the League Cup.

Alli did not get on the score sheet, but his performance convinced Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino that he was ready for the step up. "Me and Danny have a joke about it because I asked him for his shirt," said Alli.

"We speak about it now. He wouldn't give it to me. I think he wanted to keep that shirt, but he was polite about it. He wasn't nasty, he was really nice. I've still got my shirt. I wasn't going to give him mine, I just wanted his."

Alli's career has continued on an upward curve since he left MK Dons, but that has not stopped him bringing some of his pre-match rituals from his League One days to the World Cup.

He still wears the same shin pads he had as an 11-year-old, despite at one stage losing them for six months, and has a series of rituals he performs ahead of every game.

"I have a lot of superstitions, there are so many," said Alli, whose left foot is half a size bigger than his right, meaning he has to wear different boots.

"I do all my right leg first, then all my left leg. I have an eight-minute ice-bath the night before.

"I don't know why, it's just a superstition. I always say a prayer, the same prayer, before the game.

"Now, you might have noticed there's tape on my knee. That's a superstition as well. I don't like taking it off.

"I took it off for the first game - this is a bit of a silly superstition - but the first game here was the first game in ages I haven't had it on and I got injured. So, I'm going to be keeping it on again."

Alli has proved throughout his career that he likes the big occasion and is used to handling pressure. He scored on his full MK Dons debut, has netted against all of the Premier League's top six clubs and also Real Madrid, and marked his first start for England with a goal.

"You want to be playing the top teams and test yourself," said Alli. "But I prepare the same way every single game, whether a friendly or bottom half of the table, or against Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The preparation is always the same.

"You want to test yourself as much as you can, playing against the best teams and the best players. I wouldn't say you get more pumped up, but you want to prove you deserve to be there."


Pochettino this year claimed Alli was the best young player in the world, while Alex Ferguson once described him as being the best young midfielder since Paul Gascoigne, who played in England's previous World Cup semi-final appearance in 1990.

"It is a big statement (from Pochettino)" said Alli. "It's always nice to get praise.

"I think he knows me as a person and he knows I wouldn't get carried away with it or think too much into it.

"I owe a lot to him for the chance he gave me at Tottenham, how much faith he put in me and how much he helped me improve as a player.

"I feel I am improving and, hopefully, I can keep improving. It's nice to get compliments, but if you look too much into that then you'll look too much into the negative things people will say."

On Ferguson's comments, Alli added: "I haven't watched too much of Gazza, but I know enough to know he's a legend." Alli and his team-mates could return to England as legends, but first he needs to add to his score of personal triumphs over Modric. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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