Three months after the Three Lions were eliminated at the semi-final stage of the World Cup by Croatia, they will be presented with an opportunity to exact revenge. In the semi-final match, Kieran Trippier opened the scoring for the Lions in the fifth minute of play, igniting hopes that England may repeat the winning feat of the 1966 World Cup. Ivan Perisic levelled things up in the second half before the now retired Mario Mandzukic crushed English hopes in Moscow.
On Friday, Gareth Southgate leads his men to Rijeka, to play Croatia at the Stadion HNK Rijeka in a behind closed doors UEFA Nations League match. Croatia are currently serving punishment for marking a swastika on the pitch before a EURO 2016 qualifying game against Italy in June 2015 at Stadin Poljud in Split. That match was also played in an empty stadium owing to racists chants. The incident led to Croatia being constrained to play their next two home games in an empty stadium by UEFA. They served the first ban when they played Bulgaria in October 2015 but have since not played any UEFA competitive home fixtures. This game against England will see Croatia serve the second game of the two-match punishment.
Gareth Southgate is feeling the love from the English FA as his recent contract extension seems to have conferred their blessings and given him more leeway in his push for creating an English team of the future. He has dipped further into the England’s U-21 reserve, calling up Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount and James Maddison. 26-year old Lewis Dunk was also called up to replace injured James Tarkowski in the squad and in the process became the fourth player to receive a first senior call up. Sancho has been tearing it up in the Bundesliga this season, Mount has been impressive in the Championship and Gareth Southgate will hope that the inclusion of Maddison will add more creativity in midfield – an ingredient that England sorely lacked at the World Cup. Dunk’s call up is also merited as his performance has seen him rewarded with a new contract by Brighton last week. Southgate has thus continued his strategy of only calling players playing regularly and on form.
Croatia played out a 1-1 draw with Portugal in early September and began their UEFA Nations League quest on a wobbly note, losing 0-6 to Spain. That scoreline has damaged their goal difference and will need rectifying when England comes calling. Despite reaching the final of the World Cup, Croatia have actually lost two and drawn four in their last six games over 90 minutes. So they need to find a winning edge soon. England's form in the last six games over 90 minutes is slightly better. They have won two, drawn two and lost three. They lost their opening league game 1-2 to Spain but beat Switzerland 1-0 in a friendly a few days later. In the 8 matches these two teams have played each other previously, only one has ended in a draw. England have recorded 4 wins and 19 goals in the process while Croatia has 3 wins and 12 goals.
England will use this game to continue tweaking their style to create a more attractive brand of football while they hope Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic see less of the ball than they did in their semi-final defeat in Russia. A defeat won’t be the end of the world in this game for them but Croatia need to win and win big to cut that negative deficit in their goal difference. The expectation though may weigh too heavily on the team without their fans helping out in the stands.
England to get the win and revenge for the World Cup semi-final defeat. Croatia have fallen apart since their fantastic run to the final in the 2018 World Cup. England showed their lack of experience in that game and so I think they will be better prepared this time around. I cannot see England losing this, therefore the prediction is 1-0 to England.