England face the side who ended their World Cup dreams when they travel to Croatia on Friday (7.45pm live on Sky Sports).
Croatia won 2-1 in the World Cup semi-final between the sides in Russia in July. They recovered from Kieran Trippier’s early goal to equalise through Ivan Perisic in the second half and then advance thanks to Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time winner before losing to France in the final.
The teams now meet again in the UEFA Nations League. Both suffered defeats to Spain in their opening matches last month, with England beaten 1-2 at Wembley, while Croatia received a 0-6 thrashing in Spain. Both are in need of a positive result to avoid being the team relegated from their three-team mini-group to League B at the end of the group stage.
England have this week extended the contract of head coach Gareth Southgate through to the 2022 World Cup. His selections for the matches against Croatia and then away to Spain in Sevilla next Monday show that he is increasingly looking to the future. His squad features 10 players aged 23 or under and none over the age of 28.
With Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and others missing through injury, Southgate has brought in three young and uncapped players (in addition to the 26-year-old Brighton defender Lewis Dunk and 23-year-old Watford midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah). James Maddison has been rewarded for his highly promising start to the season at Leicester City with his first call-up. Derby County’s Mason Mount has been promoted from England’s under-21 side.
The most potentially exciting of the new additions is 18-year-old Jadon Sancho. The Borussia Dortmund forward has already represented England at under-17 and under-19 level and has now joined up with the senior squad on the back of a goal and six assists in just 214 minutes of Bundesliga action so far this season. Sancho made a direct contribution to a goal for every half-hour on the pitch. He had been in Southgate’s plans even before injuries opened up the places.
The aim for England and Southgate moving forward is to inject a bit more slickness into their attacking play. England created plenty of opportunities from set-piece situations during the World Cup and were generally pretty good defensively, but they struggled to create enough good chances in open play. The addition of some technically able and ambitious young players will certainly be a help in moving towards that goal.
Croatia went further than ever before in reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup, but head coach Zlatko Dalic now has a slightly awkward path to tread in the build up to Euro 2020. While older players such as highly influential midfielders Luka Modric (33) and Ivan Rakitic (30) will be able to contribute at that tournament, it is questionable whether Modric, in particular, will still be capable of carrying the load at the next World Cup.
Dalic therefore has to balance the need to maintain a consistent group over the next two years with the task of establishing a younger core for Qatar 2022. He has a good number of players in their early-to-mid twenties and decent options in most positions, but there hasn’t yet been an obvious shift in his selection approach. The majority of the World Cup group remains.
One of his immediate concerns is to find a replacement for Mandzukic, who retired from international football after the World Cup having scored 33 times for the national team. Nikola Kalinic would be the most obvious option, but he was sent home from that tournament after refusing to warm up to come on as a substitute during the group stage, and no truce has yet been struck. Wide forward Ante Rebic may get the nod against England.
Our Preview’s Croatia vs. England Betting Tips Verdict
Croatia were poor in their 0-6 defeat to Spain last month, but England would be wise not to underestimate their hosts on Friday. Dalic’s side will be keen to put on a better display in front of their home supporters and already showed at the World Cup that they have the necessary quality to overcome England. This Croatia vs England preview believes that a narrow home victory is the likely outcome. Looking at the odds from the top online bookies, we believe that this is the best betting option:
- Bet on Croatia to win @ the biggest price of 13/8 with Betfred.