The start of this summer’s European Championship was supposed to be a beacon of hope following a year of tragedy, but the events during Saturday’s clash between Denmark and Finland have brought supporters somewhat back down to earth, with the whole footballing world keeping midfielder Christian Eriksen in their hearts and minds.
With the country looking for an escape, England are set to kick off their tournament with the opening clash in Group D at Wembley Stadium, taking on Croatia in a repeat of the semi-final from the 2018 World Cup.
Croatia have been somewhat of a rival for the Three Lions since that evening in July 2018, and a victory against arguably the strongest side in the group will set Gareth Southgate’s side in good stead throughout the competition.
Arguably the biggest question in England’s preparations is that of Harry Maguire, who returned to on-field training on Friday. The complications of an ankle ligament injury, however, could mean that the Manchester United skipper remains absent from the squad, with either Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady or Ben White to partner John Stones in a back-four.
Southgate has also reportedly tested Luke Shaw as a left-sided centre-back in training – but after playing a back-four in two warm-up matches, the chances of fielding a 3-4-3 are less likely.
While Jack Grealish and Phil Foden are two of England’s most exciting players, only one is expected to start, with either Raheem Sterling or Marcus Rashford to provide pace on the wings compared to Grealish and Foden’s ability on the ball.
Croatia, however, have less doubts about their first-choice eleven, with only three spots up for debate against the Three Lions.
With one spot available up-front, it will be a battle between Bruno Petkovic and Andrej Kramaric, with competition on the wings between Josip Brekalo and Ante Rebic also in the picture. Another question looks to be whether Champions League winner Mateo Kovacic wins a place over CSKA Moscow midfielder Nikola Vlasic.
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Mings, Chilwell; Phillips, Rice; Sterling, Mount, Grealish; Kane
Croatia: Livakovic; Vrsaljko, Vida, Caleta-Car, Barisic; Kovacic, Brozovic; Rebic, Modric, Perisic; Petkovic
Ones to watch
If he starts, the man to watch is Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa talisman is electric with and without the ball and was England’s best player in the pre-tournament friendlies. The attacking midfielder has impressed whenever selected for England and has perhaps made himself un-droppable for Southgate.
The forward also wins plenty of fouls and will allow the likes of Kieran Trippier and Marcus Rashford to pose a danger from set-piece situations.
Grealish is a player who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and offers something completely different to what England had in their last major tournament; a creative outlet that can change the game on an instant. The closest comparison to Grealish in Russia was the in-form Jesse Lingard – but Grealish is much more rounded as a player than Lingard.
The man who dictated Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in Russia: Luka Modric. England supporters, those from North London especially, will be all too familiar with the midfielder’s skill on the ball and his dynamic passing range.
While not quite the same player, Modric could be the same sort of player as Andrea Pirlo from Euro 2012, a midfield lynchpin who controls the tempo of a match and cannot be touched.
The midfielder may well be thirty-five years of age, but he can still stretch the field with a long-range passing ability that won him the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and the World Cup Golden Ball in Croatia’s second-placed effort three years ago.
England took on Croatia in the UEFA Nations League in November 2018 as a Harry Kane winner sent the Three Lions to the finals.
But, if you want to re-live the heartache of 2018 – then here are the highlights from that semi-final three years ago. Viewer discretion is advised.
Where to watch on TV
The match will kick-off at 2pm on Sunday 13 June, with coverage live on BBC One. Alternatively, BBC Radio 5 Live will broadcast live coverage from the first whistle.