Euro 2020, England vs Croatia: 3 key battles to watch out for in ENG vs CRO: 2018 World Cup semi-finalists England and Croatia will renew hostilities on Sunday in their Euro 2020 opener at Wembley Stadium. The teams are favourites to secure direct qualification from Group D and must be itching to get off to a winning start.
Since their last meeting at a major tournament three years ago, the dynamics within both teams have considerably changed. Gareth Southgate will have nothing but revenge on his mind for the cruel semi-final defeat in Russia, whereas Zlatko Dalic knows his team have been slightly weakened ever since that triumph.
Ahead of the hugely significant Group D fixture, we try to profile three key player battles that could potentially decide the game between England and Croatia.
Euro 2020, England vs Croatia: 3 key battles to watch out for in ENG vs CRO:
Euro 2020, England vs Croatia: Key Battle 1
Declan Rice vs Luka Modric
After switching his allegiances to England from Republic of Ireland, Rice has only grown in stature. The midfielder is now a certain starter for the Three Lions and will be keen to make an impression in his first major tournament.
Undoubtedly, the 22-year-old’s remarkable season with West Ham will keep him in good stead. However, Rice couldn’t have asked for a bigger task on his Euro debut on Sunday. Modric is one of the greatest midfielders to have graced the game and is still capable of producing the highest level of performance.
The Croatia skipper will be without long-time national teammate and companion Ivan Rakitic, who announced his retirement. Irrespective of that and question marks over his consistency at club level, Modric proved his credentials with an eye-catching display during a warm-up friendly defeat to Belgium. Many games are generally won in midfield and both players could have a considerable impact on this clash.
Euro 2020, England vs Croatia: Key Battle 2
Ivan Perisic vs Kyle Walker
Perisic will have great memories of 2018. The Croatian winger absolutely tormented Walker on the night and both goals came from his persistence and grit. After sneaking in behind Walker to poke home the equaliser, Perisic headed the ball in behind the England full-back and onto the path of Mario Mandzukic, who fired home the winner in extra-time.
Although Perisic’s impact has slightly waned for club and country since then and Walker has enjoyed remarkable success at Manchester City, this is still expected to be an equally-contested duel on Sunday. Especially for Walker, this could be the ideal opportunity to regain some pride in front of the home crowd.
Whether England go with 3-4-3 or 4-3-3, Walker is almost definite to be up against the threat of Perisic and it could be a key area where the game is won and lost, just like three years ago in Russia.
Euro 2020, England vs Croatia: Key Battle 3
Harry Kane vs Domagoj Vida
Back in 2018, Kane announced himself at the international stage by winning the Golden Boot at the World Cup. Even as he went on to become only the second Englishman to win the prestigious honour, Kane would’ve been left with a bitter aftertaste in his mouth following England’s semi-final exit.
The Three Lions were in the driving seat and headed for the finals until Croatia produced a remarkable turnaround. All of it is folklore now and one of the main protagonists of the successful Croatian side from 2018 was their centre-back Vida.
Although the 32-year-old will probably not have Dejan Lovren alongside him against Kane and England on Sunday, Vida is expected to remain unfazed. The Besiktas defender has warrior-like grit and will relish the challenge of coming up against one of the best strikers in the world at the moment.