Jordan Henderson believes an improved “identity” within the England squad is the most important change Gareth Southgate has made during his reign as Three Lions manager.
England dispatched Sweden in the quarter-finals on Saturday to reach a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 after a fairly comfortable run through the group stage and a penalty shoot-out win over Colombia in the round of 16.
Supporters are daring to dream of success in Russia, and Henderson, 28, is excited by the prospect of achieving something special with England, claiming it is the most tight-knit group he has been involved with.
“The biggest thing the gaffer has brought is identity, [in terms of] how we wanted to play. We had discussions when he took over, we were on the same page straight away and that was the biggest thing, playing in a way we felt comfortable,” he said.
“The manager’s implemented it brilliantly by getting to know each other deeper and you can see that togetherness on the pitch. It’s the most together England team I’ve been involved in, it makes a massive difference and you get your rewards for that.
“It’s a special feeling to know the fans are enjoying it as much as we are and it inspires us as players to put smiles on people’s faces. We just want to continue that and do everybody proud.”
The Liverpool captain will play an important role in a midfield battle against Croatia’s LaLiga-based stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, and while he would not divulge his plan to combat them, he did praise club team-mate and defender Dejan Lovren.
“I’ll speak to the forwards and tell them what I think but Dejan’s a fantastic defender. He had his fair share of criticism but he’s done so well over the last six months, especially after the start of the season, he bounced back so well,” Henderson said.
“He’s got everything: he’s aggressive, good in the air, good on the ball, a real leader as well, always talking. I’m so pleased for him, he’s a great person, great character but hopefully this journey ends for him [on Wednesday].”
A win against Croatia on Wednesday could put England into a first final since 1966, when the Three Lions claimed their only World Cup triumph, but Henderson preferred to keep the focus on the 2018 team.
“We’re just concentrating on what we want to do. We’ve done okay so far, taken it game by game and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.
“It’s a massive game for us but we just focus on what the job in hand is. We’ll obviously take a lot of good things from the past in terms of 1966 and what they achieved, but it was a long time ago and not too many of us can remember that far back.”