Friday, December 14

TIMELINE

Croatia in focus – World Cup finalists next up for England in Nations League

The Three Lions face Croatia three months on from losing World Cup semi-final.

England take on Croatia in a behind-closed-doors Nations League clash in Rijeka on Friday night.

The hosts saw off the Three Lions in a 2-1 extra-time win in their World Cup semi-final meeting during the summer.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a closer look at the World Cup runners-up.

Form

Marko Mandzukic's goal saw Croatia beat England in extra-time of their World Cup semi-final – Croatia have not won since (Tim Goode/PA)

After beating Gareth Southgate's side in Moscow, Croatia went on to lose the final 4-2 to France. Ivan Perisic scored to level a Mario Mandzukic own goal before France took control as an Antoine Griezmann goal was added to by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. Mandzukic grabbed a consolation at the right end but it was not enough for Croatia, who had to settle for second place. Next up was a friendly against Portugal, with the sides sharing a 1-1 draw in Faro – Perisic putting the visitors ahead only to see Pepe equalise for the Euro 2016 winners. The Nations League began in lamentable style for Croatia as they were thrashed 6-0 by Spain. After Spain had beaten England 2-1 at Wembley, Luis Enrique's side thumped their other Nations League opponents as Saul Niguez, Marco Asensio, Rodrigo, Sergio Ramos and Isco all got on the scoresheet. Croatia goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic also scored an unfortunate own goal as his country suffered the heaviest defeat in their history.

Coach

Zlatko Dalic was appointed as Croatia head coach 12 months ago (Tim Goode/PA)

Zlatko Dalic had a fairly humble playing career, the defensive midfielder's best days arguably coming during his time at Varazdin. The 51-year-old then went into management, coaching in Croatia before a short stint in Albania saw him lift the Supercup. A return to Croatia followed but he was soon on the move again, coaching Al-Faisaly and Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia and replacing Quique Sanchez Flores as manager of United Arab Emirates outfit Al-Ain. He was appointed Croatia coach in October 2017 and said he would only remain in the job if he led the country to the World Cup finals. He did that by securing a place in the play-offs before seeing off Greece and would then steer Croatia to their first-ever major final. He has won half of his 16 games in charge.

Tactics

Mandzukic's goal in the World Cup final was his last before he announced his international retirement (Aaron Chown/PA)

Having deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation for much of the World Cup, Dalic has been trialling 4-2-3-1 of late. Plenty of the creativity within the side stems from the midfield pairing of World Cup golden ball and FIFA men's player of the year Luka Modric and his partner Ivan Rakitic. Perisic is another bright spark, while Chelsea loanee Mateo Kovacic offers a further creative option for Dalic. Croatia are yet to replace the goals of Mandzukic, who retired after the World Cup, with Marko Livaja and Ivan Santini unable to grasp their opportunities in the two matches that followed.

Players

Luka Modric collected The Best FIFA Men's Player Award 2018 in London last month (Tim Goode/PA)

There is no doubt that Modric is the jewel in the crown of Croatian football – the 33-year-old Real Madrid ace wrestling the title of best player in the world away from the recent monopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The former Tottenham man still has plenty to offer, as do the likes of Rakitic and Perisic. Dejan Lovren of Liverpool joins Kovacic as the only Premier League representatives in the current squad, while Rangers defender Borna Barisic is also included.



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5Arsenal16104235201534
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd167542826226
7Everton166642319424
8Bournemouth167272526-123
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10Wolverhampton WanderersWolves166461719-222
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12Watford166372023-321
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton166371922-321
14Cardiff CityCardiff1642101530-1514
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