Weblog: The football punter

Croatia and England may have to settle for a draw

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England have not triumphed in a competitive game since their 2-0 success over Sweden in the World Cup quarter-finals and they may have to settle for a draw against Croatia in a behind-closed-doors Nations League clash in Rijeka.

There is little room for error in the Nations League and League A Group 4 looks highly likely to go the way of leaders Spain, who already hold a six-point advantage over Croatia and England.

A draw would not do much for Croatia or England's chances of challenging Spain for top spot, but it looks the most likely outcome between two evenly-matched teams.

Croatia fully deserved their 2-1 success over England in the World Cup semi-finals but they will be without at least four players who started at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and striker Mario Mandzukic have called time on their international careers and injuries have ruled out first-choice left-back Ivan Strinic and midfielder Marcelo Brozovic.

Croatia were in an even weaker state during the September international break with right-back Sime Vrsaljko and centre-back Dejan Lovren injured, and they were ruthlessly dealt with by Spain, who thumped them 6-0 in Elche.

They will be anxious to play a lot better against England but the lack of home support is likely to be a factor.

Croatia should see more of the ball because their midfield, starring Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, looks far superior to England's.

However, there are questions over their goalkeeping situation as a long-term successor for Subasic is yet to be found and their attack has looked far less effective since Mandzukic's departure.

Inter attacker Perisic looks the only reliable source of goals and he was on target as Croatia drew 1-1 away to Portugal last month.

England's attacking options look superior with Raheem Sterling returning to the squad and Harry Kane looking much sharper than he was last month.

Getting the best out of Sterling will be crucial if England are to progress on the road to Euro 2020.

Since the start of last season the 23-year-old has netted 22 goals in 40 Premier League games but his England record of two goals in 44 appearances is incredibly poor for a player of his ability.

Part of the problem is that Sterling is used to playing with much better players when he is in a Manchester City shirt.

A lack of creativity was a key reason behind England's failure to go even further at the World Cup and the midfield cupboard looks as bare as ever with uncapped duo Nathaniel Chalobah and Mason Mount earning call-ups for the Croatia and Spain matches.

Chalobah and Mount could be stars of England's future but it looks too soon for them to be pitched in against some of the best midfielders on the planet.

England armchair fans may feel a sense of deja vu with Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier set to struggle against technically gifted opponents.

But Croatia's clever approach play is unlikely to be complimented by a cutting edge, which could allow England to come away with a creditable share of the points.


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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.