These two sides renew acquaintances after meeting in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup, and Zlatko Dalic will be hoping that his shell-shocked side can bounce back from their last outing, in which they were pounded 6-0 by the newly-good Spanish side. Dalic’s men will be facing an England side with a newly-minted midfield, in the absence of first-choice Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli.
All the pre-match intrigue surrounds the fact that these sides last faced off barely three months ago, and back then it was for the chance to play in a World Cup final. As Gareth Southgate will need no reminding, that meeting ended with a 2-1 win for the Croats after extra-time. In the intervening period, England have also lost to Spain, although their 2-1 reverse was a more sober defeat than their rivals had.
Croatia vs England Prediction: Croatia 2-2 England
Let’s pull no punches about it – these are sides who can call on attacking players like Kane, Mandzukic, Rashford, Perisic, and more besides. They are also sides who make up for their goalscoring riches with defensive unreliability.
This is a match that will bring together contrasting styles, Croatia’s possession-based game coming up against England’s pace. It will come alive when either team gets in the final third, and we’d expect that to be reflected in the final scoreline. With both sides feeling they will need three points to remain in contention in this group behind Spain, we’d expect both to go for broke here.
Our recommended tip: Both Teams Score
Simply put, these are sides who know how to attack, but fall a little short when it comes to stopping the other team. Croatia haven’t kept a clean sheet since the group stages in Russia, and their last two competitive games have seen them concede at least four goals in each. England, for their part, can keep it tight when they come up against a weaker side. Unfortunately, there is nothing to suggest that Croatia fit that description, so we’d expect to see both sides finding the net tonight.
We’re sure these sides have crossed paths somewhere before, but it escapes us for the moment.
Okay, so there was that semi-final, which started so promisingly when Kieran Trippier unleashed a stunning free-kick just four minutes in. Southgate’s England then demonstrated real maturity to keep their opponents at arm’s length until midway through the second half. Ivan Perisic grabbed a 68th-minute leveller, and ten minutes from the end of extra time he turned supplier to create a winner for Mandzukic.
The previous meeting in Croatia does hold good omens, though, as England grabbed a 4-1 win just over ten years ago. Theo Walcott notched a hat-trick. Yes, he did.
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Players to watch: Luka Modric & Ross Barkley
Modric is the spiritual heir to Andrea Pirlo in terms of playmaking ability, metronomic passing and excellent hair. Croatia’s run to the edge of glory last summer went through the Real Madrid midfielder, and everything they do here will similarly be influenced by his undeniable class. Not only is he that good, but he’ll be partnered by Rakitic and Perisic, the two Ivans. When any one of those three tires, Croatia can bring on Mateo Kovacic, who is also good.
On the England side, a player who many saw as the future of the national side a few years back, but whose recent past has been pockmarked by injury and personal difficulties. A move to Chelsea, and a lot of hard work from Barkley, has seen his international hopes rekindled, and he’s likely to start here against possibly the best midfield in international football. He certainly has the talent to hold his own.