Euro 2020: What to expect from Group D opener between England and Croatia?

Filled with exciting young talent, England will be keen to start the Euros on a positive note, while Croatia will be hoping to put their Nations League disappointment behind them.

England players during a training session; Credit: [email protected]

There is a renewed sense of hope among the English fans in a long time as the Three Lions head to Euro 2020 on the back of a positive qualifying campaign. But it is not just the results – the current English team has performed significantly better than its past sides. England have often entered major tournaments with a star-studded outfit, but have failed to deliver on the biggest of stages. This time though, the Three Lions are heading into the European championship with one of the youngest squads in the tournament.

It is the optimism that is provided by the exciting young talent, which makes the fans believe that the country might produce a good performance. The optimism began three years ago when a less-fancied English side defied the odds to reach the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It was that dream run that gave them hope of a turnaround in fortunes. Gareth Southgate’s side also enjoyed a positive outing in the UEFA Nations League, reaching the semifinal.

Filled with promising young players, England will be keen to start the Euros on a positive note. But standing in their way is a resolute Croatian side, which knocked out the Three Lions in the 2018 World Cup semifinal. However, England got their revenge, beating Croatia, a few years ago, to book their place in the Nations League semifinals. Notably, the Zlatko Dalic-coached side had a disappointing outing in the Nations League. They lost all games except for one against Sweden at home.

With Sunday’s match happening at Wembley, England will be labeled as favourites. But Croatia, in the past, have shown that they relish these types of battles, which makes it for an interesting watch. Let us look at what to expect from this clash:

Difficult preparation:

Southgate has no choice but to play both warm-up matches without all seven players of Champions League finalists – Manchester City and Chelsea. After an unconvincing win over Romania at Middlesbrough last Sunday, he gave his players a day off. Southgate has only had five complete training days with the bulk of his squad, compared to 15 in the run-up to the last World Cup.

“This is the different challenge of international football,” Southgate had said. “You don’t ever quite get to the level a club team can because you are not working through a pre-season or working every day on a training ground between matches as you would at a club. But over a period of time we have always had teams that have had clear patterns of play and the responsibility without the ball is pretty clear.”

Southgate, however, is not looking for excuses. “We knew our build-up was more complicated than most, but some of the teams are having to change base,” he said. “So everyone has their issues, we are not unique in that.”

The disrupted period of preparation, is not the only problem for the English team. Their experienced players Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are still not hundred percent fit to start matches. With both of them not playing a lot of football lately, it will be unlikely to see them getting involved from the start of the tournament.

Realistically, they both might be involved in the team during their final group match or the knockout stages. England do have quality players in the squad to replace them, but their experience will be a big miss in defence and midfield.

England’s youth against Croatia’s veterans

Southgate has selected a young, but a talented bunch of players. Many of their players are in their early 20s and some are even in their teenage. Starting with the goalkeeper, Manchester United’s Dean Henderson is only 24 years old, which is pretty young for a keeper, and Ben Chilwell is of similar age. Mason Mount and Declan Rice are still just 22, Reece James 21 and Bellingham, just 17. Phil Foden (Man City) and Jadon Sancho (Dortmund) are only 21, while Bukayo Saka is just 19.

Marcus Rashford and Ben White, both 23, Jack Grealish, 25, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 24, are all reasonably young players with a lot of club experience. On the other hand, Croatia relies more on experienced players.

Dejan Lovren (31) and Domagoj Vida (32) will be marshaling the defence, while right-back Sime Vrsaljko is 29. Skipper Luka Modric is a 35-year-old but still continues to perform at a high level for both club and country. Marcelo Brozovic (28), who will likely sit deep alongside the captain, is also in his late 20s. Wide-player Ivan Perisic (32) and forward Ante Budimir (29) are quite experienced.

It will undoubtedly be a case of England’s youngsters versus Croatia’s veterans. While fresh legs are advantageous in a grueling contest, experience is also beneficial. It will be interesting to see which side uses their advantage to their benefit.

Sportslumo Desk

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