England are preparing for their first World Cup semi-final for 28 years. (Photo: AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)

LONDON - AFP
England braces for World Cup lift-off

"Time for Lift Off! Moscow Awaits".. England's Jesse Lingard captured the mood of a nation barely able to contain its excitement as the World Cup semi-final against Croatia looms.

An estimated 32 million people across Britain are expected to tune in at 1800 GMT (2.00am Singapore time) on Wednesday (Jul 11) as Gareth Southgate's team take the next step in their attempt to repeat the success of 1966.

Prince William, the president of the Football Association, issued a rallying cry as the country prepared to grind to a halt.

"The whole country is right behind you tonight. Come on England? it's coming home!"

British Prime Minister Theresa May also sent the team a good luck message.

Even if England reach Sunday's final, neither William nor Prime Minister May will not attend the match because of Britain's diplomatic boycott of the tournament over a nerve agent attack in England this year.

Such is the feverish atmosphere that the system crashed when London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced 30,000 free tickets would be made available to watch the game in Hyde Park via a ballot.

Actor Hugh Grant and many others heeded the Sun newspaper's call to wear a waistcoat on #WaistcoatWednesday - following the lead of Southgate.

British Airways handed out waistcoats to passengers travelling to Moscow.

"Perhaps people feel they (waistcoats) also reflect in some way this young likeable England side: They're bold, innovative, endearing - a hark back to a more genteel, civilised era," said the Daily Mail.

"The inspiring diversity of Gareth Southgate's youthful team reflects the hopes of a nation tired of political battles and the grind of an economy spluttering badly," said the Daily Mirror.


TIMBERLAKE SCREENING

Concerts and shows have been cancelled or altered as performers bow to the inevitable.

American pop sensation Justin Timberlake bowed to the inevitable and made arrangements to screen the match before his show in London.

"I heard there's a big game on tomorrow before our show," Timberlake wrote on Twitter.

"So I had a little chat with @TheO2."

"For the first time ever ... we're going to play this England-Croatia match up on my big screens," he said.

Pub landlords are licking their lips ahead of the match, with an estimated 10 million extra pints predicted to be sold.

Police have warned fans to behave, listing more than 300 incidents of "significant disorder" that occurred after Saturday's victory over Sweden.

However, Mark Roberts, head of football policing for The National Police Chiefs' Council, is relieved Croatia is not a car producer.

He said when England lost to Germany on penalties in the Euro '96 semi-finals, fans damaged Volkswagen and Mercedes cars.

Travellers will hope Border Control employees are more attentive than they were during the last-16 match against Colombia.

"The worst queuing occurred during the World Cup game when the number of desks manned dropped from typically 22 to 11 and the queue time increased to three hours," John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive, wrote in a letter to Border Force.

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