THE excellent Daniel McCulloch (@DMcCulloch1984) runs the rule over England's Nations League fixture with Croatia on Friday night.
Croatia v England | Friday 12th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Just over three months ago, these two sides met in one of the biggest matches in their respective footballing histories: a World Cup semi-final in front of 78,000 fans.
This time, they are essentially meeting to decide who finishes second behind Spain in Group 4 of the already much-mocked Nations League. They will also be playing behind closed doors, thanks to a ban imposed on the Croatian FA.
The hosts will be more at ease without a fan in the stadium in Rjeka, as in the last four years they have played four home games under such circumstances, enjoying victories over Iceland and Bulgaria and drawing with Turkey and Italy.
In terms of personnel, six of the Croatian side who started that night in Moscow are in this squad, while eight of England’s XI are, so while we will see similar sides, I wouldn’t allow this result to overly influence your position.
England enjoyed a great run to the World Cup semi-final but it is worth noting that their victories came against Tunisia, Panama and Sweden. Aside from this, under Gareth Southgate their most impressive result is probably the 1-0 away victory against the Netherlands. They failed to beat both Slovenia and Scotland away from home and at 2/1 they simply seem too skinny for me.
Still, while I wouldn’t put anyway off Croatia in the Draw No Bet market, I would rather simply back the stalemate outright at 85/40 with BetVictor. I made the same call when the Three Lions hosted Spain and but for a poor refereeing decision late on in that one, I would have found myself in the winners enclosure.
In competitive fixtures against top sides, England – irrespective of who the manager is – generally find themselves engaged in close, low-scoring matches. In nine matches against top tier nations during Southgate’s reign – Germany and Spain x2 as well as France, Brazil, Netherlands, Italy and Croatia – England have drawn five.
Additionally, going back to 1990, 11 of England’s 17 matches in knockout tournament football (so against the best sides in the world) have finished a draw in 90 minutes.
Despite a recent hiding from Spain, I believe Croatia fit in to that category and think anything north of 19/10 on a draw is too big.
Sterling could shine
Another bet I would be tempted by come kick off is Raheem Sterling in the Anytime Goalscorer market. 4/1 is the best price on the high street but I believe you will get a much bigger price on the exchange come kick-off.
Despite the abuse he received during the World Cup, he was by far England’s biggest threat in the knockout stages, including the semi-final against Croatia. He regularly outpaced the Croatian backline and there would be a certain irony in him scoring behind closed doors having missed so many clear chances in front of tens of thousands (and 20+ million at home) in Russia.
Sterling's goalscoring record for England is very poor but his ability is undeniable and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he found the net here.
Croatia v England – Draw (85/40 BetVictor)