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The journey to Euro 2020 glory begins on Sunday for England, as they renew hostilities with Croatia at Wembley Stadium three years after the Chequered Ones dashed their World Cup dreams.
Gareth Southgate's crop are already being tipped by some to make history and go all the way in the tournament, but the visit of Croatia represents a stern test in front of 22,500 optimistic supporters.
Date, kick-off time and venue
England vs Croatia is scheduled for an 2pm BST kick-off on Sunday, June 13, 2021.
The match will be held at Wembley Stadium, which will have a minimum capacity of 25 per cent.
England vs Croatia: Team news
Harry Maguire is almost certain to miss this game, so Southgate has a decision to make at centre-back.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold pulling out of the squad with a thigh injury, Brigton centre-back Ben White has been called up - and he could even make a surprise start.
England’s Chelsea and Man City contingent will be available, so expect to see the likes of Mason Mount, Reece James and Phil Foden involved.
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Sam Johnstone, Jordan Pickford
Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Conor Coady, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ben White
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice
Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling
Goalkeepers: Lovre Kalinic, Dominik Livakovic, Simon Sluga
Defenders: Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Borna Barisic, Duje Caleta-Car, Josip Juranovic, Domagoj Bradaric, Mile Skoric, Josko Gvardiol
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Milan Badelj, Mario Pasalic, Nikola Vlasic, Luka Ivanusec
Forwards: Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Ante Rebic, Josip Brekalo, Bruno Petkovic, Mislav Orsic, Ante Budimir
England vs Croatia: Match preview
|Photo: The Times|
Kieran Trippier's free-kick. Harry Kane's inexplicable miss. Mario Mandzukic's winner. The demons of the 2018 World Cup semi-finals still linger in the minds of these England players - several of whom stepped foot onto the field for that fateful night in Moscow.
Despite already gaining a measure of revenge over Croatia in the inaugural Nations League campaign, Southgate's men are under immense pressure to replicate that feat in the English capital as they endeavour to kick off the summer in the most perfect way imaginable.
A near-flawless qualification period meant that England's place in the Euro 2020 finals was never in doubt, and the Three Lions enter the weekend on the back of a six-game winning run across all competitions, but their two recent friendly victories were not all that inspiring.
Back-to-back clean sheets against Austria and Romania were welcomed with open arms, but only a Bukayo Saka winner could get England over the line against the former, while Marcus Rashford was the only man who could make the net ripple from 12 yards in a 1-0 triumph against Romania.
Traditionally, though, the opening 90 minutes of the European Championship has ended in calamity for England. While they are unbeaten in all their Wembley appearances at a major tournament, they have never won their first game of the Euros in nine attempts, and Sunday would be as good a time as ever to break that alarming duck.
The joy of destroying England's World Cup chances in 2018 was short-lived for Croatia as they fell victim to France's superiority in the final, and Zlatko Dalic has failed to inspire his side to keep up that magnificent hot streak over the past 12 months.
The Chequered Ones experienced a few wobbles in qualification for Euro 2020 but eventually made it through, and the less said about their most recent Nations League campaign the better, although they were up against stiff opposition in France, Portugal and Sweden.
Croatia were never expected to overcome Belgium in their most recent friendly fixture on June 6, where Romelu Lukaku's goal handed the world's top-ranked nation a 1-0 win, but their 1-1 draw with Armenia a few days beforehand certainly raised a few more eyebrows.
History does slightly favour the visitors ahead of their trip to Wembley, though, as while England just cannot seem to get over the line in their first game of the Euros, Croatia have come up trumps in four of their last five such matches as they seek to channel the spirits of the 2018 World Cup luminaries.
As mentioned, England overcame Croatia 2-1 in the 2018-19 Nations League four months after their World Cup exit - with a goalless stalemate sandwiched in between those two matches - and the last time these two countries locked horns in the Euros group stages saw the Three Lions prevail 4-2 in 2004.
England vs Croatia: Predictions
After reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the inaugural Uefa Nations League, expectations are high in the England camp heading into this summer’s European Championships. Especially given Gareth Southgate’s men qualified for the tournament with seven wins from eight games, scoring 37 goals and conceding just six. But the Three Lions have a poor record in this tournament, advancing beyond the quarter-final stage on just one occasion and winning only 10 of their 31 games in the finals.
They face a Croatia side that also finished top of their qualification group, taking 17 points from eight games to advance stay clear of the likes of Wales, Slovakia and Hungary. Of course, it was also Croatia who beat England to reach the 2018 World Cup final, though the Three Lions exacted some revenge in the aforementioned Nations League group stage. Zlatko Dalic’s side are in a period of transition, with the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic advancing well into their thirties and a host of unproven, young players coming into the squad as veterans like Mario Mandzukic retired from international duty. Can they prove they still have what it takes to mix it with the best?
England have averaged 5.83 corners per game over their last six matches and won nine corners to Croatia’s four in their last meeting. At the 2018 World Cup, Croatia dominated 8-4 in this particular metric.
England have picked up just one yellow card in their last three matches, but did receive a red card as recently as October when Harry Maguire was sent off in a 1-0 defeat to Denmark, while Reece James was also sent off after the final whistle.
Croatia’s last red card was in a 3-2 Uefa Nations League defeat to Portugal in November with Marko Rog picking up two yellows. They avoided a booking against Belgium last time out, though Ante Rebic received a yellow card in a 1-1 friendly draw with Armenia at the start of June.
Scoreline prediction: England 2-1 Croatia
England vs Croatia betting odds
Odds are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change.
England to win and over 2.5 goals @ 2/1 with Paddy Power
Harry Kane to score at any time @ 11/10 with Paddy Power
Marcelo Brozovic to be booked @ 15/8 with Paddy Power
Three Lions to kick off campaign with a win
England host Croatia in both teams' opening match of the Euros on Sunday, and Southgate will be eager for his side to start the tournament with all three points.
Croatia is a tough test early on, and many will see it as a pointer to where the England team are at, and whether they can now beat a side who defeated them just three years ago in Russia.
The last meeting between the two teams came just after the World Cup, and England were victorious 2-1 in a win that showed Southgate’s side had moved on from that defeat.
Tip: England to win and over 2.5 goals @ 2/1 with Paddy Power
Kane to lead from the front
Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane will be leading out the England side on the Wembley turf this Sunday, and he will be eager to show why he is one of the best strikers in the world.
Kane was in superb form for his club this season and managed to win the Golden Boot for his club, while also earning the playmaker award as he made the most assists in the Premier League.
He has netted 34 times for England and has Wayne Rooney’s national goalscoring record of 53 in his sights. After the last major tournament, where Kane picked up the top scorer award, he looks like he can eventually beat that tally.
In England’s most recent match with Croatia, Kane scored the winner and banished any demons he had after his point-blank miss against the same side in the World Cup semi-final.
He has shown maturity in his leadership and we are backing him to find the net for England on Sunday and get his tournament started in the best way possible.
Tip: Harry Kane to score at any time @ 11/10 with Paddy Power
Key midfielder has tough job
Brozovic is a combative midfielder who is not afraid of putting in a challenge, and the Croatian picked up nine yellow cards and one red card in the league last season for Inter.
He also got a caution for Croatia when they lost in their last meeting against England at Wembley. With the Three Lions showcasing some great attacking talent, he could be prone to conceding free kicks in the middle of the park again.
We are backing Brozovic to go into the referee’s book on Sunday, and begin his tournament with a yellow card.
Tip: Marcelo Brozovic to be booked @ 15/8 with Paddy Power
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