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Mario Mandzukic scored the winner as Croatia beat England in the World Cup semi-final.

New faces and familiar foes – Talking points ahead of England’s trip to Croatia

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England take on Croatia in the Nations League in Rijeka on Friday night.

The pair last met less than 100 days ago in a World Cup semi-final clash which saw English hearts broken in extra-time.

A Mario Mandzukic strike was enough to send Gareth Southgate's men into the third-place playoff game against Belgium, whilst Croatia booked their spot in the World Cup final.

As we know now, both teams would lose their respective games, with England losing 2-0 to Roberto Martinez's Belgium, and Croatia losing 4-2 in the final to France.

Here, Press Association Sport have taken a look at the major talking points ahead of the match.

Behind-Closed-Doors

Friday’s game at Stadion HNK Rijeka will be played behind-closed-doors as part of a UEFA sanction that has been hanging over Croatia since 2015.

They were ordered to play two UEFA matches in front of an empty stadium after a swastika was marked on the pitch ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifier.

England manager Gareth Southgate showed his players a video of Barcelona’s game against Las Palmas from last year, which was also played in front of no fans, to prepare them for a unique test, which goalkeeper Jordan Pickford believes plays into the hands of the visitors.

World Cup Revenge (of sorts)

TOPSHOT-FBL-WC-2018-MATCH62-CRO-ENG

Three months on from the biggest game England had played in 28 years, the Three Lions get a shot at some modicum of revenge.

In Russia, Kieran Trippier’s early free-kick put Southgate’s side ahead and on course for the World Cup final, only for Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic to score the goals which saw Croatia progress at England’s expense.

It brought an end to a surprisingly successful summer for England, with the players wanting to exact a little retribution in Rijeka.

England's Bright Future

Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho and James Maddison all spoke to the media earlier in the week as they enjoyed their first taste of a senior England call-up.

England Training Session

The trio will be hoping for some level involvement against Croatia – or Monday’s Nations League meeting with Spain in Seville – rather than just being in and around the squad for the first time.

All three have impressed this season – Mount on loan at Derby from Chelsea, Sancho in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and Maddison at Leicester – and will be desperate for a chance to impress.

Leicester’s Ben Chilwell is likely to add to his first cap in last month’s friendly win over Switzerland following the withdrawals of fellow left-backs Luke Shaw and Danny Rose.

Two Years of Southgate

Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Fraser Forster and Michail Antonio – seven players who were all involved in Southgate’s first match in charge of England on 8 October 2016 as Malta were dispatched 2-0 at Wembley.

England v Malta - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier

That list shows two years is a long time in football, but Southgate can toast his anniversary in Croatia knowing he is the most popular England boss for a generation and with a newly-signed contract to boot.

Croatia Out of Form

Croatia may have beaten England in the World Cup, but Zlatko Dalic has not seen his side win since.

A 4-2 defeat to France in the final was followed by a 1-1 friendly draw against Portugal in Faro, but it was their opening Nations League match which will be of most cause for concern as Croatia were thumped 6-0 by Spain.

They will be itching to put that right, with victory over England once again in their sights.

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Topics:
Football
Gareth Southgate
Switzerland Football
Croatia Football
Danny Rose
Mason Mount
Jadon Sancho
Jordan Pickford
Ivan Perisic
Mario Mandzukic
England Football
Borussia Dortmund
Luke Shaw
Premier League
Kieran Trippier
Joe Hart
Leicester City
Chelsea

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