MX23RW : Friday, April 19 17:07:51| >> :600:13291165:13291165:
Nov 18, 2018 at 2pm UK at ​Wembley Stadium
Attendance: 78,221
Lingard (78'), Kane (85')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Kramaric (57')

Preview: England vs. Croatia - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday's winner-takes-all Nations League showdown between England and Croatia at Wembley, including predictions, teams news and head-to-head records.

It is all to play for in the final game of Group A4 of the UEFA Nations League as England host World Cup conquerors Croatia at Wembley.

Croatia's last-gasp win over Spain on Thursday night means that all three teams could still finish top of the group and progress to the Finals, making Sunday's showdown a winner-takes-all encounter.


England manager Gareth Southgate watches on during his side's international friendly with Switzerland on September 11, 2018© Reuters

Whoever doubted the UEFA Nations League?

The complexity and somewhat contrived format of the tournament saw it maligned at times, but the mastermind behind it would be forgiven for tuning into this match with a smug smile on his or her face.

The competition was designed to bring an end to meaningless international friendlies - or at least cut down on them - and it has certainly done that in this group.

England played out back-to-back goalless draws in friendlies at Wembley in November last year - against top opposition but far from a spectacle for the fans - whereas the national stadium should be buzzing for this winner-takes-all showdown against the team which ended their World Cup dreams in the summer.

Both England and Croatia could either reach the Finals or suffer relegation depending on this result, with only two points separating the three teams in the group. Spain currently lead the way on six, but their back-to-back defeats mean that England and Croatia now sit second and third on four points apiece.

All of that leaves a must-win equation for these two sides. If England win, they are through to the Finals and Croatia are relegated. The opposite result leads to the opposite circumstance, with Croatia through and England demoted. A goalless draw sees Spain win the group, England finish second and Croatia third on goal difference, but a score draw would see England finish third and suffer relegation due to an inferior head-to-head record.

It could not be more finely poised, then, and when you throw in the rather significant sub-plot of England still looking for revenge against Croatia following their World Cup semi-final defeat this summer, it should be an occasion to savour.

Indeed, the make-up of the group is such that attention has almost immediately switched from Wayne Rooney's farewell appearance for his country in the 3-0 win over USA on Thursday night - a result which Croatia ensured was not even England's most important of the night.

Thursday's contest should be remembered as much for more new talent emerging as for Rooney's valedictory cameo, though; Callum Wilson justified his maiden inclusion with a debut goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold was on the scoresheet at international level for the first time and there were also debuts for Lewis Dunk and Alex McCarthy.

England's starting XI had won just 94 caps between them before kickoff - some way short of Rooney's individual tally of 120 - yet despite it being their least experienced lineup since 1980, they cruised to a comfortable victory.

Of course, Croatia will provide a tougher test than a USA team in a serious period of transition, but just last month another youthful England side pulled off one of their most famous results in recent years - a 3-2 win away to Spain in Betis.

Also in October was the eerie goalless draw behind closed doors against Croatia - a match England could and should have won. On paper, Sunday appears to be an even better chance to finally beat the World Cup runners-up at the third time of asking as they look to bring a positive end to a memorable year.

Recent Nations League form: LDW
Recent form (all competitions): LLWDWW


Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic reacts during the match against Argentina on June 21, 2018© Reuters

England are not the only nation to have enjoyed great success in 2018, and victory for Croatia at Wembley would be a fitting way to bring the curtain down on their own annus mirabilis.

Twelve months ago a goalless draw against Greece sealed Croatia's place in Russia via a playoff, and now they sit one result away from besting Spain and England in a three-team group having also made it all the way to the World Cup final for the first time in their history.

Even defeat and subsequent relegation from Group A4 would not be enough to majorly tarnish such a impressive year, but Zlatko Dalic's side will arrive at Wembley full of confidence.

While England were saying one final goodbye to their record goalscorer on Thursday night, Croatia kept the group very much alive by inflicting a second successive defeat on a Spanish side that looked to have things wrapped up after the first two matches.

Tin Jedvaj's 93rd-minute winner in Zagreb saw Croatia topple Spain just two months after being on the end of a 6-0 hammering at the hands of the same opposition, so they will not be perturbed by the fact that they only managed a draw at home to England.

It has not all been plain-sailing for Croatia despite their success this year either; Dalic's side have lost to Peru, Brazil, France and Spain in 2018, needed extra time or penalties in all of their World Cup knockout games and only narrowly beat Jordan last month to end a four-match winless streak.

Any criticism must be kept in context, though, and the fact that Croatia come into their final game of the year ranked fourth in the world - behind only Belgium, France and Brazil - speaks volumes for the strides they have taken.

A longer-term concern may be how the next generation will emulate the current crop, with Mario Mandzukic now retired, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their 30s and many of their other World Cup heroes - such as Dejan Lovren, Ivan Perisic and Domagoj Vida - approaching that age too.

Croatia also arrive at Wembley having won just three of their last 11 away games, failing to score in six of those, and they will not need reminding that their most recent trip abroad ended in that chastening defeat to Spain.

This is a team which cannot be counted out, though, and they will have the advantage in experience as well as the edge in the very recent history between these two sides for their visit to Wembley.

Recent Nations League form: LDW
Recent form (all competitions): LDLDWW

Team News

England striker Harry Kane in action during his side's international friendly with Nigeria at Wembley on June 2, 2018© Reuters

Gareth Southgate is expected to welcome a number of key players back into his starting lineup for this match, including forwards Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.

Jesse Lingard - scorer of the opening goal against USA - faces a battle with clubmate Marcus Rashford to join them in the front three, while Dele Alli will also be hopeful of retaining his starting spot ahead of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley are expected to come into the side, while it could be all change in defence with Kyle Walker, Joe Gomez, John Stones and Luke Shaw set for recalls.

Rooney has now left the squad, meaning that Henderson - set to win his 49th cap - is the most experienced player available to Southgate.

Croatia, meanwhile, still have two centurions in Modric and Rakitic, while Lovren and Mateo Kovacic are both set to bring up their own international half-centuries at Wembley - although the latter may be forced to settle for a place on the bench at first.

Indeed, Dalic could name an unchanged side to the one which pulled off that dramatic victory over Spain, which would see Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Ante Rebic start in a front three once again.

England possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Gomez, Maguire, Shaw; Alli, Henderson, Barkley; Sterling, Kane, Rashford

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Kalinic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Jedvaj; Modric, Brozovic, Rakitic; Kramaric, Rebic, Perisic

Head To Head

This will be the third meeting between these two sides this year, with Croatia winning the World Cup semi-final in extra time before a goalless draw in the reverse fixture of this one last month.

England still edge the overall head-to-head record with four wins to Croatia's three from nine previous meetings, but their last victory came in September 2009 - a 5-1 win at Wembley which sealed their place at the 2010 World Cup.

That is England's only Wembley win over Croatia, though, having drawn 0-0 at the national stadium in 1996 before falling to the infamous 3-2 defeat which saw Steve McClaren's side miss out on a place at Euro 2008. England's only other home win against Croatia came at Ipswich Town's Portman Road in 2003.

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We say: England 2-1 Croatia

Rarely has a game outside of a World Cup or European Championship garnered as much anticipation for England - certainly since the Home Championship was abolished in 1984 - so the fans should be very much up for this one. England are in good shape on the pitch too and, while Croatia are always a tricky task, we're backing the Three Lions to roar one last time in 2018.

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Who will win Sunday's Nations League clash between England and Croatia?

England striker Harry Kane in action during his side's international friendly with Nigeria at Wembley on June 2, 2018
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