Just 93 days on from these two teams clashing on the biggest stage, in a World Cup semi-final in front of 78,000 fans, Croatia and England are preparing to do it all again. Except this time it will in front of no fans, with only officials, stadium employees and the media for company.
As part of a UEFA punishment, this is the second of two games where Croatia are required to play behind ‘closed doors’. All of which will make for an oddly eerie atmosphere in Rijeka, in what still promises to be a fascinating contest, with the Croatians having denied England a place in July’s World Cup Final with that narrow 2-1 win in St Petersburg.
The general feeling that both sides over-achieved in Russia has been borne out by indifferent form since the heady days of July, and both lost to Spain in their Nations League openers – England by a narrow 2-1, Croatia by an anything-but-narrow 6-0.
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Since the summer, England have won just once – against Switzerland in a friendly – but the Croatians have yet to win since losing in the final to France.
For England, Gareth Southgate has maintained his ‘young and hungry’ theme by calling up some uncapped young guns – Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Lewis Dunk and James Maddison.
The Croatians will boost a far more experienced line-up, with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic still centre stage in their midfield, although they have lost experienced striker Mario Mandzukic to international retirement.
In the eight times the teams have met, England have won four, Croatia three, with one draw, so based on the above, everything points to it being a tight one. But also worthy of note is that Croatia have scored in each of their last 20 home games.
Croatia won’t, of course, benefit from a vociferous Zagreb crowd as normal, but still it will be a stern test for Southgate’s young side, and we can’t find too many reasons to plump for an England win.
Given that the Croatians’ invariably score at home, we’re torn between a 1-1 and a 2-1 home win, but the latter tips the balance due to the juicy +900 on offer with 888sport. Equally tempting is the +510 on offer with 188bet for the teams to be drawing at half-time but Croatia to be winning at full-time.
Croatia to win 2-1
Friday 12, October. 19:45GMT
Draw at half-time/Croatia win at full-time
Thursday 12, October. 19:45 GMT
Switzerland surprised everyone by smashing six past Iceland in their Nations League opener, but it will still be the Belgians who start this one as favourites (4/9) after a fine World Cup.
The Swiss, by contrast, were knocked out of the tournament following a lacklustre 1-0 defeat by Sweden and worth noting too is just three days after the win over Iceland, they offered little resistance in losing 1-0 to England in a friendly.
Belgium meanwhile go from strength to strength and are three from three since Russia, without conceding a goal.
So, while Croatia/England was tough to call, this one has home win written all over it, with 3-0 to Belgium ( +1000 with 888sport) looking a more-than-decent shout. Also worth considering, given his red-hot form, is Eden Hazard as first goalscorer ( +400 with 188bet).
Belgium to win 3-0
Friday 12, October. 19:45GMT
Eden Hazard as first goalscorer
Friday 12, October. 19:45 GMT
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