With the World Cup final one win away, excitement has set in for supporters of England, Croatia, Belgium, and France ahead of the penultimate round.
They’re likely experiencing overwhelming anxiety, too, especially when past appearances in the semi-finals are mentioned. Of the four teams set to play in the coming days, three are desperate to get past bitter failures at this stage of the World Cup.
Here’s a look at how each team performed during its last appearance in a World Cup semi-final.
Belgium: 1986 World Cup in Mexico
The timing for Belgium’s only appearance in a World Cup semi-final couldn’t have been worse. After triumphs over the Soviet Union and Spain in the previous knockout rounds, Belgium was rewarded with a date against an Argentina squad led by Diego Maradona.
The Argentine legend entered the match riding high after one of the most infamous moments in World Cup history. His opening goal against England in the quarter-final appeared to go in with the assistance of his hand, and then minutes after the “Hand of God” incident, Maradona doubled Argentina’s lead with “The Goal of the Century” to secure a passage to the final.
Maradona’s follow-up act against Belgium is rarely mentioned, but it was just as impressive. He found the back of the net twice to send Argentina to the final, where the South American nation captured its second World Cup trophy with a 3-2 win over West Germany.
England: 1990 World Cup in Italy
England’s first appearance in a semi-final since winning its first World Cup was packed with drama. After a goalless first half, West Germany grabbed the lead 14 minutes into the second half when a deflection off a set piece sent the ball looping over goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the back of the net.
With 10 minutes remaining, England supporters were in a frenzy when Gary Lineker scored his fourth goal of the competition to force extra time.
An additional 30 minutes failed to produce a goal before the match went to a penalty shootout – England’s first at the World Cup. The two sides traded goals before misses by Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle ended the Three Lions’ World Cup journey, setting the tone for years of shootout heartbreak by future England teams.
Croatia: 1998 World Cup in France
Croatia’s first World Cup as a recognised independent nation was one to remember.
Led by Davor Suker, Croatia edged past Romania in the round of 16 before producing a stunning 3-0 win over defending European champion Germany to reach the semi-finals.
Croatia had Suker to thank once again when the eventual Golden Boot winner stunned host France by opening the scoring shortly after half-time. However, Lilian Thuram made sure the euphoria was short lived with two goals to knock Croatia out. France went on to win its first World Cup with a 3-1 win over Brazil.
France: 2006 World Cup in Germany
Portugal’s path to its first World Cup final required a victory over France, a familiar foe.
The two teams were meeting in a third semi-final at a major tournament, with France prevailing at Euro 1984 and 2000.
It was a tightly contested match featuring a young Cristiano Ronaldo, who was desperate to put the devastating loss to Greece in the Euro 2004 final behind him, and beat a France squad led by his future Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane.
The decisive moment of the encounter occurred just after the half-hour mark when Thierry Henry was fouled inside the Portugal penalty area. Zidane calmly converted from the spot to score the goal that booked France’s ticket to the final.
Zidane’s heroics, however, were quickly forgotten when he was sent off in the final – his last-ever match – for headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest. France went on to lose the final on penalties.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)