Gareth Southgate is relishing renewing acquaintances with Croatia after England were drawn to face the side that beat them in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup at Euro 2020.

Mario Mandzukic's extra-time winner sent Zlatko Dalic's men through to the final in Russia at the expense of the Three Lions.

England gained a measure of revenge for that loss by edging out Croatia to reach last season's Nations League Finals.

They have since progressed to Euro 2020 courtesy of a free-scoring qualifying campaign with a youthful squad, although Southgate believes any suggestions Croatia's experienced generation led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic is on the slide are premature.

"I thought that maybe 12 months ago but they recovered really well in their group," he told BBC Sport after having confirmation Croatia will be England's first opponents of the competition at Wembley on June 14.

"We know the quality of their midfield players when they can leave [Mateo] Kovacic on the bench.

"That tells you a story. That's a really top-level fixture."

A draw in Bucharest that placed holders Portugal, Germany and world champions France in the same Group F fell favourable for England, who will also take on the Czech Republic and the winner of the play-off path featuring Scotland, Israel, Norway and Serbia in Group D.

"There are eight to 10 top nations. If you look at the history of European Championships, there are so many different winners," Southgate said.

"A lot of teams prepare their squads for the World Cups, they rebuild after World Cups. The margins are really, really fine."

England hammered the Czech Republic 5-0 at Wembley in qualification, with Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick, but they were beaten 2-1 in the return fixture.

"We were very poor in Prague," Southgate conceded. "They've definitely improved. A new coach [Jaroslav Silhavy] has had time to bed in, a couple of younger players came into their squad.

"We know we have to be on our game. It won’t be like the first game at Wembley, that's for sure.

"If you can win and be top seeds, you've got to try and take control of your own destiny. We've got to be confident of our own ability and take on whoever comes."

The multi-host format of Euro 2020 means major-tournament football returns to England's national stadium for the first time since Southgate and his team-mates reached the semi-finals of the same competition in 1996.

"I just think that's going to be a brilliant experience for our fans and our public," he added.

"Ten nations have that opportunity so it doesn't make it an advantage in terms of winning the tournament unless we can get to the semi-finals [that take place at Wembley along with the final], which is then back in our favour.

"We're really looking forward to the experience."

The last three European winners of major tournaments will play in the same pool at Euro 2020, after France, Portugal and Germany were all drawn together

Germany and France - victors at the respective 2014 and 2018 World Cups - will take on reigning European champions Portugal and a play-off winner in Group G.

Croatia, runners-up at last year's World Cup, will renew acquaintances with England, the side they beat in the semi-finals.

Here is the draw in full for next year's event, with four places in the finals still to be determined by the four path-winners in March's play-offs.

 

Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia.

Group C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, play-off winner from Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) or Romania if they win Path A.

Group D: England, Croatia, Czech Republic, play-off winner from Path C (Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia)

Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, play-off winner from Path B (Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland)

Group F: Germany, France, Portugal, play-off winner from Path A (Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary) or winner of Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) if Romania win Path A.

Holders Portugal will face world champions France and fellow heavyweights Germany in a daunting Group F at Euro 2020.

Saturday's draw in Bucharest pitted Fernando Santos' men and their talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo against the winners of the two World Cups either side of their Euro 2016 triumph.

It means Didier Deschamps' Bleus will have an opportunity for revenge after Portugal beat them on home soil at the Stade de France to lift the trophy.

The nation with the dubious pleasure of joining them is still to be determined. Iceland, Bulgaria or Hungary would claim the fourth spot if they progress through their play-off route in Path A.

However, if Romania are victorious in Path A, they will go into Group C with Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria.

In permutations that underline the convoluted and criticised format, one of Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo from play-off Path B would enter Group F if Romania qualify. Otherwise, the winner of Path B goes into Group C.

Italy open the tournament, which will take place across 12 host cities, when they entertain Turkey in Rome on June 12. Wales and Switzerland are also in Group A.

England and Croatia renew acquaintances at Wembley in Group D – Gareth Southgate's men having been sunk by a Mario Mandzukic winner in the semi-finals of Russia 2018 before progressing to the Nations League Finals at the expense of Zlatko Dalic's team.

There is the possibility of an all-British encounter if Scotland prevail from their play-off path alongside Israel, Norway and Serbia, while Czech Republic will meet England again in the finals having traded victories with the Three Lions during qualification.

Group B is the second group not waiting to see how play-off cards fall, with the world's number-one ranked team Belgium lining up alongside Denmark, Finland and Russia.

Spain are aiming to make it three European titles in four attempts after securing glory in 2008 and 2012.

They head up Group C, where the winner of the play-off route including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland will round out the line-up alongside Sweden and Poland.

The Euro 2020 play-offs take place during next March's international break.

The last three European winners of major tournaments will play in the same pool at Euro 2020, after France, Portugal and Germany were all drawn together

Germany and France - victors at the respective 2014 and 2018 World Cups - will take on reigning European champions Portugal and a play-off winner in Group G.

Croatia, runners-up at last year's World Cup, will renew acquaintances with England, the side they beat in the semi-finals.

Here is the draw in full for next year's event, with four places in the finals still to be determined by the four path-winners in March's play-offs.

 

Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia.

Group C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, play-off winner from Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) or Romania if they win Path A.

Group D: England, Croatia, Czech Republic, play-off winner from Path C (Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia)

Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, play-off winner from Path B (Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland)

Group F: Germany, France, Portugal, play-off winner from Path A (Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary) or winner of Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) if Romania win Path A.

Croatia and Austria each won on Saturday to join Netherlands and Germany in securing their places at Euro 2020.

Both Croatia and Austria came into their latest fixtures knowing only a point was required to reach the finals next year, although Zlatko Dalic's men threatened to make hard work of their progress.

Playing their final qualifier, unlike Austria, who have another against Latvia to come, Croatia trailed at home to Slovakia until the 56th minute.

Robert Bozenik had put the visitors in front, but Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic scored in quick succession approaching the hour-mark to turn the match on its head.

Ivan Perisic completed a 3-1 victory after Slovakia's Robert Mak was sent off, which sees World Cup finalists Croatia qualify as Group E winners.

Hungary lie second but must visit third-place Wales – just one point back – next week. A draw there would open the door for Slovakia to advance with victory at home to Azerbaijan.

Austria enjoyed a more straightforward outing, beating Macedonia 2-1 to join Poland in the top two in Group G.

David Alaba and Stefan Lainer scored early in each half, meaning Vlatko Stojanovski's 93rd-minute reply mattered not.

Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Dani Olmo insisted it has always been his dream to play for Spain, despite interest from Croatia.

Barcelona academy product Olmo joined Zagreb in 2014 and is eligible to represent Croatia, having not yet made a senior appearance for his native Spain.

However, the 21-year-old is in line to earn his first cap this week after being included in Robert Moreno's squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Malta and Romania.

Olmo confirmed the prospect of switching allegiance has been discussed in the past, but he has always been intent on representing the nation of his birth.

"I am proud that Croatia, one of the best national teams in the world, want me and they have let me know about it, but I am Spanish and playing for Spain has always been my dream," he told Radio MARCA.

"A footballer always aspires to the best and playing with the national team is included in that. I must continue working so that this moment can arrive."

Olmo scored three times to help Spain to European Under-21 Championship glory earlier this year, while at club level he has won seven major trophies in four seasons with Dinamo.

Amid rumoured interest from Manchester City, Manchester United and former club Barcelona, Olmo is not thinking about his next move.

"I am 21 years old, I have a long way to go and I have my feet on the ground," he said. "My agent and my father have kept me away from the transfer issues and I am focused on playing football.

"I am in a great moment as the other day we qualified for the cup final and we are close to winning the double again.

"Coming to Croatia was the hardest decision in my life, but no one else offered me the sporting project that Dinamo did - both as a player and as a person. I think I made the right decision."

 

Ivan Rakitic has left the Croatia squad to return to Barcelona with an Achilles injury.

The midfielder had been called up by head coach Zlatko Dalic for Saturday's final Euro 2020 qualifying match against Slovakia, in which a draw will be enough for the World Cup finalists to progress from Group E.

Croatia then meet Georgia in a friendly match next week.

However, Rakitic has gone back to Catalonia due to a heel problem and has not been named in the Barca squad for a charity game against Cartagena, the club confirmed on Tuesday.

He told Novi List in his homeland: "I'm afraid I cannot help the team, but I'm convinced my team-mates will have success without me."

The 31-year-old has struggled for regular football this season, starting just once in LaLiga for Ernesto Valverde's side.

The former Sevilla star has been linked with a possible January move, with Juventus, Inter and AC Milan among the clubs said to be interested.

Luka Modric escaped significant injury in Croatia's 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifying draw with Wales, with Real Madrid confirming he suffered bruising to his right quadriceps.

The midfielder had to be helped from the pitch by Croatia's medical staff with a minute of normal time remaining, having received a knock when he fouled Harry Wilson and earned a booking in Cardiff on Sunday.

He underwent tests after returning to his club, with the results announced on Tuesday.

"Following the tests carried out today on our player Luka Modric by the Real Madrid medical department, he has been diagnosed with a contusion to his right quadriceps," a statement from Madrid read.

"His recovery will continue to be assessed."

Zinedine Zidane's side resume their LaLiga campaign with a trip to Mallorca on Saturday.

Zlatko Dalic played down initial concerns over Luka Modric's fitness after the Real Madrid midfielder was injured in Croatia's 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifying draw with Wales.

Modric had to be helped off the field by Croatia's medical staff with a minute of normal time remaining, having taken a knock as he fouled Harry Wilson and earned a booking in Cardiff on Sunday.

However, head coach Dalic soon explained the issue and hoped Modric would be able to make a swift recovery, with key matches to come for both Croatia – still chasing Euro 2020 qualification – and LaLiga leaders Madrid.

"[Modric] got hit in the muscle, which is awkward and quite painful, so he had to go off," said Dalic, as reported by Gol.hr.

"He will certainly need a two to three-day break, but I hope he will be alright."

Croatia would have qualified for next year's European Championships by beating Wales away from home, yet Gareth Bale's strike late in the first half cancelled out Nikola Vlasic's opener.

Vlasic conceded he was a little surprised by Wales' lack of ambition after equalising, given they are fourth in Group E and progress is now no longer in their hands.

Only a half-chance for Daniel James saw either goalkeeper worked in the second period.

"I think [Wales] did well in defence," Vlasic said. "They were very compact - they knew what we were doing. They clearly analysed our match in Slovakia [a 4-0 Croatia win].

"We retreated a little after taking the lead because we knew this was an important match for them. They had to go forward, so we expected that they would open up more.

"But they closed everything pretty well. We didn't manage to create five or six chances after half-time as in the first half.

"They didn't want to play with us because they know we're a better team and this is a big point for them."

Ryan Giggs was optimistic Wales superstar Gareth Bale had only suffered from cramp as he hobbled out of a combative clash with Croatia on Sunday.

Bale scored Wales' equaliser in Cardiff as they drew 1-1 with Group E leaders Croatia in Euro 2020 qualifying, although the result leaves Giggs' men with plenty of work to do.

The Real Madrid winger was one of three Wales players who appeared to take a knock, with Dan James recovering from an early blow, Ethan Ampadu later substituted off, and Bale then limping badly after indicating a calf issue.

Giggs assured both James and Ampadu were fine, while he was hopeful on Bale's status.

"Gareth's just got a bit of cramp towards the end," he told Sky Sports. "He didn't want to come off, though.

"It was a fantastic performance from Gareth, it was just a shame that he did get that - it was about 10 minutes really at the end, so we were down one player really.

"But it looks like it's just cramp."

The James and Ampadu incidents were both rugged aerial challenges that earned yellow cards, while Luka Modric injured himself while hacking at Harry Wilson.

Giggs cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines but insisted his issue was with Croatia slowing Wales' attacks rather than with the strength of the tackles.

Asked if he was upset by Croatia's approach, the coach replied: "Yeah, a little bit. But they're smart players.

"It's not about looking for players to get booked - they're just stopping our flow, which they're good at. It's something we need to get better at.

"They're smart. Good players and smart, as well. It was more the stopping of the flow of us counter-attacking that I was complaining about really. It's a physical game and we've come through it well."

Wales must now win their remaining two matches - against Azerbaijan and Hungary - and hope Slovakia drop points, but Giggs is happy with the permutations.

"We're in it. After these two games [including a draw in Slovakia], I wanted to be in it," he said. "We've got two games which won't be easy against two tough teams.

"We'll look forward to those games - it's exciting. Get it down to that second game with Hungary here."

James added: "[Croatia] have shown what a great team they are, top of the group. They came here and I know we lost in the summer but it was about bouncing back from that. Today, we got a good result."

Real Madrid looked to be dealt a double blow on Sunday as Luka Modric and Gareth Bale both picked up injuries on international duty.

Croatia's Modric travelled to Wales hoping to secure their Euro 2020 qualification but was frustrated as Madrid team-mate Bale netted an equaliser in a 1-1 draw in Cardiff.

Neither side was able to force a winner, yet they each ended the match hindered by issues to their key men.

Modric was booked for wiping out Harry Wilson a minute from time but injured himself in the process and had to be helped from the pitch by Croatia's medical staff.

As Modric received treatment, Bale turned to the Wales physios as he appeared to indicate an issue with his calf.

While Modric was substituted, Bale played on through the eight minutes of stoppage time, clearly limping and remaining on the field merely to make up the numbers.

Wales saw their hopes of Euro 2020 qualification taken out of their own hands as they could only draw 1-1 at home to Group E leaders Croatia.

Fourth in the pool heading into a crunch clash in Cardiff following a slow start to the campaign, Ryan Giggs' men suffered another setback on Sunday as they trailed to Nikola Vlasic's early goal.

Gareth Bale struck shortly before half-time to lift Wales, yet they could not get the crucial second goal and were forced to settle for a point.

Wales now require a helping hand from opponents Croatia when they face Slovakia, with the World Cup finalists themselves still to secure a place at the finals after failing to win here.

Croatia took control from the outset and had to wait just nine minutes for the opener, with Josip Brekalo dancing in from the left and Bruno Petkovic teeing up Vlasic to shoot low past Wayne Hennessey via the left-hand post.

Only a stunning, stooping Hennessey save denied Ivan Perisic a quick second with a 12-yard header, although a stoppage for Dan James to receive treatment for an apparent head injury slowed the visitors' momentum.

Wales continued to toil until the vital equaliser arrived from a predictable source three minutes into the consequent added period, as Ben Davies picked out Bale to fire beyond Dominik Livakovic.

The home side improved following the restart but chances were at a premium, with only a shaky Livakovic fumble from James' drive offering the Welsh fans any real excitement in front of goal.

A combative match took its toll in the closing stages, too, as Luka Modric was substituted with an injury and Bale ended the contest hobbling badly.


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The fates of these two sides are now intertwined, as Wales can only qualify if Croatia also do so by stopping Slovakia. Both teams would expect to win their remaining fixtures and advance, but Giggs' men have slipped up too many times already in this group for progression to be considered a given at this stage.

Davies desire turns contest

A draw was a relatively disappointing result for Wales, but they might have come away empty-handed had Davies not intervened. For while Bale got the leveller, it did not look like coming until the determined defender charged forward - injuring Mateo Kovacic in the challenge - and slid in his clinical colleague. Davies was effective at both ends throughout.

Rugged Croatia pay the price

Wales were unimpressed with some rough challenges from their opponents, as James and Ethan Ampadu were both hit hard - the latter had to be substituted. But the numerous flashpoints also cost Croatia, with centre-backs Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren each picking up bookings that will keep them out of their key meeting with Slovakia.

What's next?

Wales go to Azerbaijan and then host Hungary in a key qualifying double-header next month, while Croatia welcome Slovakia before a friendly against Georgia.

Gareth Bale says he wants to finally get one over on Luka Modric when Croatia visit Wales in Euro 2020 qualifying.

The Real Madrid team-mates will be the two biggest stars on show for Sunday's Group E game in Cardiff.

Croatia lead the pool on 13 points with Wales six back in fourth spot, although Ryan Giggs' side have a game in hand.

Wales drew away to Slovakia on Thursday, Bale sustaining a knee injury, but he is expected to be fit to face Croatia.

The forward is looking forward to testing himself against Ballon d'Or winner Modric, Croatia having won the reverse game 2-1 in June.

"Whenever we have played we've always lost by one goal and it’s always been quite a tight game," Bale told reporters.

"We know what a great team they are, they had a great World Cup and they have shown year after year how good they actually are.

"We know it is going to be very tough, but I think being at home gives us a little bit more of an advantage and we know the Welsh crowd will be behind us.

"We've played together for a long time in Tottenham and Real Madrid so we know each other quite well. It would be nice to get one over on him finally because they have beaten us a few times in the past."

Bale is one booking away from missing a qualifier through suspension, which he accepts will be on his mind against Croatia.

"I can't make too many silly tackles or anything, I have to be mindful of that," Bale said. "I don't want to miss any games for Wales and especially at the crunch time of the group.

"I guess I have to be clever with what I'm doing but maybe I have to expect that someone is going to wind me up to get me suspended."

Luka Modric has become the latest Real Madrid player to be struck down by injury ahead of an important run of matches.

Tests undertaken on Thursday confirmed an adductor issue for midfielder Modric, who looks highly likely to miss this weekend's LaLiga fixture against Levante.

Zinedine Zidane's men then commence their Champions League campaign away to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, before returning to Spain for a tough trip to Sevilla.

Modric, 34, completed two full matches for Croatia during the international break but now joins Isco, Marco Asensio and Brahim Diaz in the treatment room, while James Rodriguez and Eden Hazard have also suffered in recent weeks.

Madrid's statement read: "Following the tests carried out on our player Luka Modric by Real Madrid's medical department, he has been diagnosed with a muscular injury to the adductor in his right leg.

"His recovery will continue to be assessed."

Modric's appearances in Euro 2020 qualifying for Croatia included a goal against Azerbaijan, the Ballon d'Or winner converting a penalty in the 1-1 draw.

Ivan Rakitic pulled out of the Croatia squad over uncertainty about his Barcelona future, Zlatko Dalic has confirmed.

Croatia's head coach revealed rumoured Juventus target Rakitic would not be able to focus on the national team until his club situation is resolved.

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has only used Rakitic, who was reportedly offered to Paris Saint-Germain in a proposed deal for Neymar, for 44 minutes over the course of the club's three LaLiga matches this season.

Serie A champions Juve are thought to be interested and the Italian giants have until 20:00 local time (19:00 BST) Monday to finalise a deal before the transfer window shuts.

"I talked to Rakitic, who has not yet resolved his status at the club and is not ready for the national team at the moment and would not be able to give his maximum," Dalic told a news conference.

"I do not have time now to deal with what will happen in the future. Hopefully it will work out for the best."

Rakitic is not the only Croatia midfielder unavailable for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Slovakia and Azerbaijan.

Vatreni medical staff assessed Mateo Kovacic following his arrival in camp and diagnosed the Chelsea player with an inflamed Achilles tendon in his right leg.

The 25-year-old played 83 minutes of Saturday's 2-2 Premier League draw against Sheffield United.

Mijo Caktas replaces Kovacic in the squad, while Marko Rog is in for Rakitic.

Croatia, World Cup finalists in 2018, sit third in Group E with six points from three games.

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