England vs Croatia preview: Ivan Rakitic out for World Cup finalists
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Last Updated: 18/11/18 9:50pm
England will qualify for next summer's inaugural Nations League finals if they can beat Croatia at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
Given England began their campaign with a 2-1 home defeat to Spain, who then went on to thrash Croatia 6-0, the fact Gareth Southgate's team can now win their group would have been seen as unlikely just a few weeks ago.
The match will be the teams' third meeting in just 130 days - with Southgate anticipating a thrilling encounter as his players look for their first win in that sequence.
He said: "We've obviously played them twice in the last few months and we know their style of play, we know their preferences, the areas that they build up.
"We know areas we think we can try to exploit and it's two really evenly-matched teams. Both games after 90 minutes have been draws. I think there's been periods in both of those matches where each team has the upper hand.
"We have got to put all the things together tomorrow and make sure we back up the last few performances, which have been really healthy, and finish the calendar year from an England perspective on a high."
Croatia are bidding for a place in the Nations League finals just four months after a first appearance in the World Cup final, where they lost 4-2 to France in July.
An away win or a scoring draw would both put them through and relegate England to League B, while a goalless draw would put Croatia down and send Spain through as group winners.
Coach Zlatko Dalic says his team's extra-time success against England in Russia gives his players confidence ahead of the Wembley fixture.
He said: "We beat them in the semi-final of the World Cup. That's the most important thing. Nobody can forget this. That was the most important result from the three matches."
Wayne Rooney has left the England squad after making his 120th and final appearance for his country as a substitute in Thursday's 3-0 victory against the United States.
Each of the 25 players who remain in the group trained on Saturday, meaning Southgate has a full pool to select from and several changes as expected to the side which won last time out.
Croatia have been dealt a significant setback with the loss of Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who won't play as he is not fully fit.
His injury has not been disclosed but the former Sevilla player has returned to his club for treatment and will not be considered.
- This will be the 10th meeting between these two nations, with England winning four of those clashes to Croatia's three (D2).
- England have lost just one of their four previous home matches against Croatia (W2 D1 L1), losing 2-3 in November 2007 in a Euro 2008 qualifier which saw England fail to make the tournament.
- Croatia are unbeaten in two matches against England, winning 2-1 in the World Cup 2018 semi-final and drawing 0-0 in October in the UEFA Nations League - they've never gone three in a row without defeat against the Three Lions.
- Since losing three consecutive games, England are unbeaten in their last four matches, winning three and drawing one.
- Croatia have lost just two of their last 13 matches in all competitions (W7 D4 L2), losing 2-4 in the World Cup final vs France and 0-6 vs Spain in the UEFA Nations League in September.
- England have lost just two of their last 27 matches on home soil (W21 D4 L2), with both defeats arriving at Wembley (1-2 vs Spain in September and 1-2 vs Netherlands in March 2016).
"I fancy England to win - Croatia keep the ball so well, but we are playing at home and, man for man, I think we are a better team than them.
"If we can get at them and play with no fear… as it is one of those situations now where a goalless draw is not the worst result, as we avoid relegation.
"I thought we were the better team in the World Cup semi-final for the first 60 minutes and then we did not know whether to stick or twist and so faded, and they did not.
"And I think that surprised England after all the extra-time periods they had played."