2018-19 UEFA Nations League: England vs Croatia| Preview and Prediction
Despite Spain seemingly walking into the sunset after the first two games in Group A4, Croatia and England are both in with a chance of claiming the top spot.
Spain's destiny is out of their hands now, as a win for either the Three Lions or the Croats will mean that they are eliminated at this stage, although it's impossible for them to be relegated.
A draw would mean that Spain will advance, a goalless one meaning that Croatia are relegated, however, a score draw will send Gareth Southgate's side in League B for when Euro 2024 qualification begins.
England 3-0 USA (Friendly)
England's all-time highest goalscorer didn't add to his overall tally, Wayne Rooney will have left Wembley a happy man, as the Three Lions enjoyed a comfortable evening against the United States on Thursday.
The home side predictably dominated chances and possession and should've been ahead after Brad Guzan took out Callum Wilson in the box, but the referee said no penalty. Southgate's men didn't have too much longer to wait to take the lead through a Jesse Lingard stunner (something he's pulled off many times at the home of football) after 25 minutes.
Before the visitors had a chance to react, the lead was doubled, Trent Alexander-Arnold with a hard and low finish to make it 2-0, a fine first goal for England. The second half brought redemption for Wilson, his first goal for the England National side coming after converting with a fine finish from a cross.
Christian Pulisic was the main threat for the USA, getting behind the England backline on a number of occasions, but his team-mates lacked the quality to profit from the youngster's play.
Croatia 3-2 Spain (UEFA Nations League)
Also on Thursday night, Croatia upset the odds to beat group leaders Spain, despite the home side losing the reverse game 6-0 earlier in the campaign. Croatia started the match on the front foot, producing most of the early chances, but the scoreline was goalless going into half-time.
Sergio Ramos is close to becoming the most-capped player in Spain's history, but his mistake ended up giving Andrej Kramaric an opportunity he couldn't pass up, finishing low to David de Gea's left. La Furia Roja wasted no time in responding, though, advancing from the kick-off to equalise through a move that was finished off well by Dani Ceballos.
The game then settled down, but not for too long, Tin Jedvaj put the Vatreni back in the driver's seat with a powerful header. Spain put the pressure back on, which led to a defensive error by Šime Vrsaljko, the defender handling in the error and conceding a penalty.
Ramos stepped up and cancelled out his earlier error and that looked like being the end of proceedings. However, Jedvaj poked home in the last minute of injury time to secure a stunning victory for the Kockasti, one that gives them a reasonable chance of advancing to the next stage.
After resting several key players against the USA, all the big guns will return for England against Croatia, Southgate won't be taking chances here. Kyle Walker, Luke Shaw, Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling and national Captain, Harry Kane all return to the starting line-up.
Alexander-Arnold will consider himself unlucky to not to start after scoring against the states, but Walker is too good a player to be left out.
There shouldn't be as many changes for the Croatians, as they fielded a strong line-up against Spain. Mateo Kovacic and Josip Pivaric should be the only changes from the previous game, the latter coming in, in place of Sime Vrsalijko due to Zlatko Dalic wanting to avoid giving away the penalty.
Key Player: Tin Jedvaj
Tin Jedvaj is probably Croatia's most exciting young prospect, and the Leverkusen defender showed exactly why on Thursday night. The youngster can play anywhere along the backline, and his attacking runs earned him a brace against Spain, and thus, wouldn't rule out him scoring or providing a goal for the visitors on Sunday.
At the other end, whether he's deployed as left-back or right-back, he'll be key in keeping out the likes of Kane and Sterling, who will be England's main attacking threats. If Croatia make it to the knockout stages, Jedvaj will be a hero in the Balkan state.
History Repeating Itself?
No England fan needs reminding of Steve McLaren's time at the helm, the current QPR manager having an infamously poor time in charge. A series of poor results meant that the Three Lions had to beat Croatia at the new Wembley to secure qualification to Euro 2008, but a typically poor result meant that they missed out on an international tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup.
McLaren was sacked, and this began a shocking run of competition results before Southgate restored pride in the national side this year. Southgate's tenure isn't under threat in this game because, if truth be told, no England fan really cares about the Nations League, qualification can easily be achieved regardless of where they finish in the group.
Prediction: England 2-1 Croatia
A fresher side and home advantage should see England progress through to the knockout stages on Sunday afternoon. Croatia will make it awkward, and will probably score, but the Three Lions have a good chance of advancing, something that seemed impossible after failing to win both of their opening games.
A loss for Croatia meanwhile, will see them playing in League B when the 2024's qualifiers come round.