Is it coming home? The Euro trophy has never been on the English soil for more than a month. Euro 2020 brings the final back to Wembley, but this time Gareth Southgate hopes to write a different end. England’s real ambitions will be defined immediately by Croatia, the most probing obstacle of the group stage.
England vs. Croatia
Sunday, June 13, 2021 – 09:00 AM EDT at Wembley Stadium
Euro 2020 brings plenty of deja vus both for fans and for England's manager, Gareth Southgate. The ghost of that missed penalty at Wembley in Euro ’96 has admittedly haunted the 50-year-old gaffer ever since. England will start again from Wembley and hopes to reach the Final Four. Opposite to the result in Russia 2018, the target is not exiting just before the Grand Final.
Three years ago, it was Croatia to turn off the English dreams of a second-ever World Cup final since 1966. The young English team, however, has already proved not to be burdened by the past in that WC campaign as they went as far as the England squad did in 1990. Croatia were the Runners-Up in Moscow and their squad is pretty much unchanged. From whichever side you take it, it is going to be one of the most interesting games of the Group Stage in Matchday 1.
Similar to Mancini´s Italy, Southgate trusts in playing 4-3-3 whose cornerstone is the midfield populated by a good mixture of youth (Mount, Foden) and experience (Henderson). This is where Kane will get his supplies from, with the help of the wings (Sterling and Rashford). Zlatko Dalic will oppose a 4-2-3-1 set-up in the attempt to tackle the English dynamism by filling the spaces and making it harder for the Three Lions to move fast upfield.
Luka Modric is the guiding light of Croatia, the rest can be built around. The pint-sized Zara-born is probably at his last big tournament (however Qatar 2022 is close...) and everyone will go the extra mile for their Ballon d'Or. Brozovic is the one ready to do that and shine alongside the Wonder Boy. Croatia´s biggest concern is probably the center forward, who is going to score goals? Just turn your back, Perisic, Rebic, and talented Vlasic, all playing behind unfashionable Petkovic, they have all risen their hands.
Playing at Wembley could be a great encouragement for Southgate & Associates, however Croatia, despite the latest disappointing results in pre-tournament friendlies (loss to Belgium and a draw with…Armenia!) are used to deliver when the 3 points kick in: they won Group E Qualifiers, three points clear of Wales and a +10 goal difference.
The Wembley stage could work as a big motivating factor for Dalic´s XI and create more than one trouble to the Three Lions who will have to shake off any embarrassment at debut and avoid any stuttering start. The defeat in Russia in the semi-final might work as an additional boost to take their revenge 3 years later in a ruthless manner.
Can England concede? The stats tell us ‘very little’. In the past 5 games (3 World Cup Qualifiers and 2 pre-tournament friendlies) they picked the ball just once, against a Lewandowsky-less Poland. Before that, it was Belgium to score more than once against them (2-0 FT) in the Nations League back in November 2020.
However, Croatia, in clashes with the bigger boys in the Nations League, had scored at least once or twice despite a mere win in 6 games. Do Croatia have a tough job ahead? The Both-To-Score option could prove as prolific as the duo of checkered wingers, Rebic and Perisic. If you believe in England bringing it (...the 3 points for now) home, you can also stake on combo England ML + Both To Score.