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England v Croatia betting: Back the draw and semi-satisfaction for both teams


England v Croatia betting: Back the draw and semi-satisfaction for both teams

England open their campaign on Sunday against old foes Croatia

ENGLAND encountering Croatia tends to have the same affect as Mentos dropped into a glass of fizzy pop.

On only ten occasions have these nations met yet most of them have had profound consequences starting with Wayne Rooney’s masterclass in 2004 that sent the Three Lions through to a Euro quarter final.

Three years later Steve McClaren haplessly watched on like a wally as England were deprived a Euro 2008 place but then the roles were reversed soon after with two comprehensive defeats in qualifying meaning Kockasti (‘the chequered ones’) missed out on a major tournament for the first time since gaining independence.

The summer of 2018 heralded the most meaningful confrontation of them all; a World Cup semi-final no less, and after an edgy affair was decided in extra-time the lyrics to Baddiel and Skinner’s classic needed amending to ’52 years of hurt’. A small measure of revenge was later enacted in the Nations League when England progressed to the finals at Croatia’s expense.

Since the mid-nineties that’s how it’s been with these pair. They go back and to, hurting the other and quite significantly so.

Which brings us to this Sunday’s Group D opener but the irony here is that it wouldn’t necessarily be the worst scenario if Gareth Southgate’s men lost. Whoever finishes top of the group must face the runner-up of this year’s ‘group of death’ and that’s a Hobson’s choice of tournament favourites. Whoever comes second has the preferable test of Poland or Sweden in all probability.

Such a predicament suggests a draw that will half-satisfy both teams. Croatia and England have failed to score in only 12% of their fixtures since 2019 so go for the 1-1 at 6/1

Maybe it’s a blessing of sorts then that England historically have an abysmal record regarding their introduction to major competitions. Since rising to international prominence in 1996, Croatia have only lost three of their ten opening games, two of those to Brazil. England, meanwhile, in that same period have won just three of their 11. Those welcome wins were relatively routine dismissals too, of Paraguay and Tunisia (twice).

It is the stereotype of Italy that they are slow starters. For some reason, England avoid the same charge, even from a fault-finding media.

Throw in the uncertainty surrounding the fitness of Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson – two players pivotal to England’s game-management in meaningful fixtures – and the temptation is to err towards this weekend’s opponents but hold that thought because this is not the Croatia of yesteryear.

Granted, they remain a technically accomplished side capable of posing tough questions of anyone but when your star player is approaching 36 – regardless of how brilliant Luka Modric is – then clearly a transitional period that has seen Subasic, Rakitic, and Mandzukic depart the international stage is not yet over. Croatia’s patchy form of late is further proof of this with seven losses in their last 20 while the goals haven’t been raining in either, instead a persistent drizzle. In the past two years they have averaged 1.7 goals per game. By comparison, England have scored 2.5.

From Croatia’s goal tally Bruno Petkovic has bagged the most and with six in 15 appearances the Dinamo Zagreb forward is emerging as a very capable front-man.

Petkovic is 19/5 to score anytime at Wembley this Sunday

As for who creates it, the 9/2 available for either Modric or Ivan Perisic to give an assist jumps out because this is precisely the kind of game – and environment – where old heads will thrive.

So, what of England and a fairly inexperienced squad that has the hopes of a nation on their shoulders for the next few weeks. Where do the best bets lie as they seek to build momentum and belief and ideally capitalise on sustained good form that has gone hand in hand with the maturing of some genuinely exciting young talent.

Well, firstly, we can anticipate a positive start if nerves can be suppressed. In their last 20 games, England have scored 55% of their goals in the opening 45 minutes while in that same period Croatia have conceded 56% of their goals against in the first half. It is also encouraging for the Three Lions that they are well versed in taking full advantage of advantages: in the 14 games they have taken the lead, Southgate’s men have only lost once. Additionally – and significantly – they have kept 14 clean sheets in 20.

England are 5/4 to be leading at the break

All of which would ordinarily hint at a narrow victory for the ‘home’ side but again we must consider the bigger picture. Draws are in short supply usually at this early juncture of the Euros – during the last tournament we saw just three from 12 – but we can expect one here, as both sides look to avoid defeat at all costs while simultaneously being aware that a point is anything but disastrous.

Attempting to pinpoint England’s scorer naturally directs us to Harry Kane but his 27/20 to score anytime is slim so how about instead we plump for the 5/1 available for the Spurs ace to assist? After all, he was the Premier League’s leading creator in 2020/21 and boasts six assists in his last 12 for his country.

Determining who he sets up however is decidedly tricky because Southgate’s starting eleven remains, in part, a mystery. Truly, the England gaffer has played a blinder in this regard and while it is hoped that Foden and Grealish come to the fore as the competition progresses intuition tells us that Raheem Sterling will kick proceedings off, with Southgate going with familiarity against the toughest opponent in the group. Yes, Sterling has been out of form for Manchester City, of that there’s no doubt, but his stats combined with Kane’s in an England jersey is phenomenal, even if we have to go back a couple of years to see the best of their partnership.

Even so, it is sensible to wait for the line-ups to be announced before opting into the England goal-scorer market. Sterling to score first at 23/4 has merit as too does Foden at 13/2, but only if they play.

Beyond the individuals a bet that stands out concerns the percentage of possession enjoyed by England. You can get evens on over 55.5% and if every game during Southgate’s reign was factored in this would be an outstanding price. But consider this: On the last ten occasions Kane and co have faced a side ranked in the top 20 they have averaged 51%. More so, Croatia are pass-masters and it’s easy to imagine England reverting to counter-attacking means should they get their noses in front. The 8/11 therefore on under 55.5 is a cracking shout.

In summary, swallow your patriotic pride for this one and back the draw, as banal as that may feel. With that in mind, under 2.5 goals at 3/5 should also be considered while overall your choices in the Match Events market should be pragmatics ones.

This will be tense and it will be tight. The excitement, and the goals, and the drama is all to come at a later date.

 

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