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Croatia haven’t suddenly become a bad side, but they’re not the same outfit that downed England in extra time in their semi-final matchup in the World Cup.
A number of players have since either retired or grown old, most notably midfield maestro Ivan Rakitic and forward Mario Mandzukic, while centre-back Dejan Lovren looks set to miss the opening game through injury.
Head coach Zlatko Dalic has faced criticism for failing to bring through the next generation quickly enough, and recent results have left a lot to be desired.
Croatia are a desperately poor W4-D2-L7 since football resumed in September 2020, with their only victories across their last nine coming over Cyprus and Malta.
Most concerningly, Croatia have struggled against elite sides since the last World Cup. Following a defeat to Belgium in their final warm-up game, they’ve now lost seven of 10 clashes with either Portugal, Spain, England France or Belgium, winning just once. That includes each of the past six as they shipped 16 goals, though they did the net in five of those as four of those losses came by just a single strike.
Both Teams To Score
Having taken England to extra time in the World Cup, drawn with them in Rijeka and lost just 2-1 at Wembley in the Nations League, they should certainly remain a competitive test.
The midfield can still boast the likes of Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea) and Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), the wide areas are patrolled by Ante Rebic (Milan) and Ivan Perisic (Inter), while Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb) is essentially a like-for-like replacement for Mandzukic and can bring others into play with his physicality.
With the defence appearing the weakest aspect of both sides, both teams to score holds some appeal here.
England may have kept clean sheets in five of their last six outings, all of which they won, though did concede against the best outfit they faced over this spell as Poland were beaten 2-1 at Wembley.
England To Win 2-1
Against sides currently 21st or better in FIFA’s world rankings, England have registered just seven clean sheets from 19 appearances since the start of the 2018 World Cup, and just four from 16 in competitive fixtures.
The last four such victories came by just a single strike, with three ending 2-1 and the other 3-2, so the correct score is also worth paying attention to.
Indeed, Croatia have still found the net in eight of their 10 defeats since November 2018, with five of these ending 2-1.
England -1 Handicap Draw
England have won 15 of their last 16 on home turf, though each of the last three have come by one-goal margins, including both warm-up friendlies with Austria and Romania. Croatia remain a highly competitive team, and a slim victory appears to be in order.