Croatia will welcome England to an empty Stadion HNK Rijeka on Friday, where the two teams will battle for three points in the UEFA Nations League.
Both countries are looking for their first win in the new competition, having both lost to Spain in their opening matches 6-0 and 2-1 respectively. The game also represents a chance for England to enact some form of hollow revenge on their World Cup semi final opponents. The Croats famously triumphed 2-1 after extra time against the Three Lions in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, after Kieran Trippier had given Gareth Southgate’s side the lead.
A fresh-faced England squad includes six caps uncapped stars in Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Nathan Chalobah, James Maddison, Marcus Bettinelli and Lewis Dunk, who will all be out to impress a manager known for giving youth a chance.
Here’s everything you need to know about this one.
Croatia 2-1 England (2018 FIFA World Cup)
These two have some serious history, since their first meeting in 1996 (a 0-0 stalemate at the old Wembley).
Theo Walcott bagged a hat-trick in a 1-4 away win in World Cup qualification back in 2008, while Wayne Rooney produced one of his finest displays in an England shirt four years earlier as Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Three Lions won 4-2 in Euro 2004.
A humiliating 2-3 defeat at Wembley under Steve McClaren also saw a rain-drenched England fail to qualify for Euro 2008.
However, this summer’s encounter was the biggest of the lot as the Luzhniki played host to the second semi-final tie of the World Cup. France had booked their place the previous day with a 1-0 win over Belgium and waited to find out which of the underdogs would challenge them for the world title.
Southgate side started very well, scoring early on with a Kieran Trippier free-kick and controlled most of the first half. However, Croatia responded in the second half through Ivan Perišić, whose goal kept the match deadlocked until extra time.
The experience, technical superiority and desire of Zlatko Dalic’s side showed late on big game specialist Mario Mandžukić stepped up to score the winner, ending hopes of a repeat of 1966.
Dejan Lovren vs Harry Kane
Liverpool versus Tottenham Hotspur is one of English football’s most thrilling clashes and last season produced a key battle between two warriors in the Reds’ Dejan Lovren and Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
Self-proclaimed as one of the best defenders in the world, Lovren established himself as one of his nation’s key players in their run to the World Cup final. His all-or-nothing defensive approach can be a blessing as well as it can be a curse and against Golden Boot winner Kane, he has experienced the best of both worlds.
The England skipper has scored four times in his last six appearances against Liverpool and on each occasion, Lovren was on the pitch. Kane will be looking for another goal against the Croatian’s team, while the defender himself will be tasked with shutting him down.
Jordan Henderson vs Luka Modrić
There is sure to be an interesting midfield battle in the match on Friday, which could be led by Jordan Henderson and Croatia captain Luka Modrić.
Henderson serves his nation in a deep-lying midfield role, from which he is primarily tasked with breaking down incoming attacks, before launching fresh ones for his team. Modrić is capable of operating in the same role but his attacking ability also allows him to venture forward to be his side’s creator in chief – and even get a goal of his own.
Put the pair against each other and they’re bound to cancel each other out. The winner of this particular battle could have a big influence on the game’s final scoreline.
England have been hit with a triple injury blow in their defensive ranks, with left-backs Luke Shaw and Danny Rose, as well as centre-back James Tarkowski the casualties.
There could also be a few exciting debuts to look forward to, as Borussia Dortmund star Sancho and Maddison are just two of England’s in form players in the German Bundesliga and Premier League respectively. Southgate could also give Ross Barkley an England return.
Croatia, meanwhile, have no fresh injury concerns but will be without World Cup stars Daniel Subašić, Mandžukić and Vedran Corluka, who announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament.
Croatia: Livaković; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Pivarić; Kovačić, Modrić, Rakitić, Rebić; Perisić, Santini
England: Pickford; Walker, Gomez, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Dier, Henderson; Sterling, Rashford, Kane
The setting of an empty stadium (due to UEFA sanctions against the hosts) will give an eerie aspect to the encounter. However, both teams will be keen to achieve their first points in the Nations League.
Croatia’s opening 6-0 defeat at the hands of group favourites Spain would’ve already been deemed unacceptable in the dressing room and manager Dalić will demand a positive response from his World Cup finalists.
England will bring a young and confident side to Rijeka, with each player looking to hit the ground running and prove they belong in a Three Lions shirt.
Prediction: Croatia 1-3 England