England vs Croatia: World Cup rivalry renewed in Nations League. Watch Croatia v England on Sky Sports Main Event Old rivalries will be renewed when England take on Croatia in the Croatia vs England UEFA Nations League on Friday – a clash which will be played behind closed doors in Rijeka. Gareth Southgate has backed England.
England take on Croatia in Rijeka in the Uefa Nations League just 93 days after they suffered World Cup semi-final heartbreak against the same opponents.
The League A Group 4 match will be played behind closed doors as the hosts complete a Uefa ground ban for having a swastika on the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy. Five-hundred hardy England supporters have reportedly still made the trip to Croatia.
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It is a measure of manager Zlatko Dalic’s confidence in his team that before England had even arrived in Rijeka on Thursday the Croatia manager publically named his starting XI.
There will be no Milan Mandzukic in the side, and both the Croatian full-backs who played against England in the semi-final, Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic, are out. But Dalic expects his star midfielders, Luka Modric and Ivan Raikitic, along with Chelsea loanee Mateo Kovacic, to be closer to their best than they were last month against Spain when a jaded Croatia were still suffering from their long summer and got thumped 6-0.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is considering a change of formation. It would be a move away from the 3-5-2 he used at the World Cup to such effect. He knew it was always something of an emergency measure. If England are to beat leading nations such as Croatia they need to eventually alter their approach, which is why he is mulling over a 4-3-3.
If that happens, it may be Kieran Trippier who drops out at right-back, because it seems that Kyle Walker will play – either at right-back or as the right-sided central defender – ahead of Joe Gomez, with Ben Chilwell earning a first competitive start. The 21-year-old is the only specialist left-back in the squad, with both Luke Shaw and Danny Rose having withdrawn and, while Trippier could be moved across, it seems the specialist, Chilwell, will be selected.
In midfield, it appears that Ross Barkley’s confident resurgence at Chelsea under manager Maurizio Sarri will be rewarded with a first appearance for England since May 2016 when he came on in a friendly against Australia for the last of his 22 caps.
“The song (Three Lions) is humour isn’t it – it is English humour. Unless you’re a fan of Fawlty Towers and stuff like that maybe you don’t get the slant on it. It is interesting how we are viewed by the rest of the world sometimes when you travel.
“I’m always putting across the importance of representing our country in the right way and I think the rest of the world does sometimes view us in a certain way and feel that we have a sense of entitlement.
“But I can only speak for this group of players and this group of staff – it is not how we work and is not what we believe.
“We want to be competitive and we don’t want to be showing too much respect on the pitch but certainly in terms of what we believe of the opponents, particularly some of the players in this team, we couldn’t have more respect for them.”
Southgate on playing behind closed doors:
“It will be a strange experience. I guess we effectively do that every day of our lives – we play football in front of a handful of people watching, so it’s not totally unique. But for a match situation, in an international, very different.
“I am sure Croatia feel the same. For them, not to have the encouragement of what is an incredibly passionate support will be very different for them.
“So it’s a shame especially for our travelling fans, who were brilliant for us all summer and so many of whom haven’t missed an England game for years. That’s unfortunate for them in particular.”
Luka Modric on Harry Kane:
“If you look at the number of goals he is scoring for Tottenham Hotspur, taking them into the Premier League title race which isn’t easy because other clubs are investing more money, then he’s proved himself one of the world’s best forwards already. If he continues to develop, he can achieve even more, but he’s already one of the best in the world.”
Gareth Southgate’s squad cannot match Croatia’s experience, but the England manager has scoffed at the suggestion his side will be experimental in Rijeka. And switching to a 4-3-3 formation may even make them more competitive. Home advantage will count for nothing behind closed doors. And revenge will be in the air.Predicted score: Croatia 1 England 2.