England against Croatia, representing the dreams of one nation continuing their progression in a tournament whilst the other licks their wounds as they are rejected a place at the top table...where have we heard that before?
Proving their worth
This contest may not be on the same scale as the World Cup semi-final clash four months ago but it provides both sides with another opportunity to prove their value as one of the best nations on the global stage.
As England bowed out in extra-time, the natives were left applauding a spirited performance by a young side. But questions still remained. Would we ever be able to go a step further and repeat the glory of 1966?
It was a similar feeling for Croatia. Had they benefited from a ‘more favourable’ draw before being put in their place at the hands of France who battered them in the final? Or did they warrant being just 90 minutes away from lifting the most famous trophy in football?
Promotion, relegation or runner-up
The UEFA Nations League provides another opportunity to prove their doubters wrong. Yet the permutations aren’t simple.
Spain currently top the group and a draw in this fixture would ensure they qualify for the semi-finals alongside the three other League A winners. However, a win for either England or Croatia at Wembley would send them through.
A defeat would also ensure relegation for the unfortunate side down to League B where Wales are currently plying their trade...along with Germany from next season. However, a goalless draw will secure survival for England by goal difference, although a score draw would send England down as the ‘away goal’ would give Croatia a better head-to-head record against Gareth Southgate‘s side despite their inferior goal difference.
In short, aim for the win. And that could and should be the mantra for both sides which will lead to an entertaining contest.
Rooney, brollies and silence - a growing rivalry
Forgetting the ‘ghost game’ earlier in the competition where a goalless draw reflected the non-existent atmosphere from the behind closed doors contest, England against Croatia invariably throws up a match to remember.
The last seven games have presented a share of the spoils with some crucial encounters over the last 14 years. Wayne Rooney announced himself on the global stage when he scored twice in a 4-2 win at Euro 2004.
However, England were to miss out on qualification for the next European Championships, knocked out by Croatia who defeated them twice in 2006 and 2007, including the infamous ‘wally with the brolly’ moment under Steve McLaren. Goalkeepers Paul Robinson and Scott Carson will not look back fondly on those matches after crucial errors effectively curtailed both of their international careers. Don’t watch the replays, Jordan Pickford.
There was also of course THAT game from the summer. Two of the three goalscorers that evening will not be present for this contest with Mario Mandzukic, the hero (or villain) of the night, retiring from international football and Kieran Trippier absent through injury.
Defensive stalwarts Danijel Subasic and Vedran Corluka have also since called time on their international career and Ivan Rakitic has returned to his club after picking up a knock. Yet 2018 UEFA Player of the Year Luka Modric continues to lead the side. As for England, all 25 players in their developing squad trained on Saturday.
Croatia should not be taken lightly, as underpinned by their impressive display against Spain just a few days ago. With the visitors looking set to secure qualification and Croatia inching closer towards relegation, Tin Jedvaj struck a 93rd minute winner with his second of the game to blow Sunday afternoon’s fixture wide open.