Facing Croatia at Euro 2020 cannot be about revenge for England, according to manager Gareth Southgate.
The Three Lions take on Croatia in their opening match of the tournament at Wembley on Sunday, June 14 in a repeat of the World Cup semi-final from 2018.
Croatia won that game 2-1 after extra time and although England beat the Croats in a Nations League game later that same year Southgate insists neither that, nor next summer’s game, can atone for that defeat in Moscow.
“You can never make up for losing a World Cup semi-final,” Southgate said after the draw in Bucharest. “We felt that after the Nations League - it was great to win that game but didn’t in any way redress it.
“If I was the Croatians I know which game I’d have rather won. That (the semi-final) will be long gone, but I think it’s an attractive fixture for everybody.”
England’s second match will be against the winners of play-off path C, which could be Scotland, at Wembley on June 19 while they round off their group campaign against the Czech Republic, who ended England’s run of 43 qualification matches without defeat in October.
If I was the Croatians I know which game I’d have rather won. That (the semi-final) will be long gone, but I think it’s an attractive fixture for everybody.Gareth Southgate
In response to a suggestion from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic that his team might fear facing England at Wembley, Southgate said: “I think he’s being tactically economical with the truth there.
“There has been very little between the teams in our last three games against them, and there’s quite an interesting contrast. They have hugely experienced players, we’re at the other end of the scale.”
Croatia playmaker Luka Modric criticised English pundits for showing a lack of respect after his side beat them in the World Cup, but Southgate hopes that fans evoking the memory of Euro 96 and singing ‘It’s Coming Home’ will not be seen as an attempt to antagonise.
“It’s hard if people react to certain songs,” he said.
“You latch onto things that can work in your favour, but we can’t ask our fans not to get excited and not to enjoy themselves. This is a summer to be cherished and enjoyed and I want our fans to feel that way.
“We want to make Wembley somewhere that teams fear coming and we do that via the atmosphere in the stadium.”
Winning the group would pit England against the runner-up from Group F, which contains Germany, France and Portugal.
“Everybody will be looking at Group F thinking they’re pleased they’re not in it,” Southgate said.
Asked whether that might affect how England approach the group - and whether it might be better not to finish top - Southgate replied: “Everybody else can work through that as they did in Russia.
“In the end you want to win every game and have control of your destiny, then fortune will take you where it takes you.”
Wales have been drawn in Group A against Italy, Switzerland and Turkey and face a long trip to play matches in Azerbaijan, where they won in Euro 2020 qualifying.
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland know that if they win play-off path B in March they will go into Group E, which also contains Spain, Poland and Sweden.
Denmark, Finland, Belgium and Russia are in Group B while in Group C it will be Ukraine, Holland, Austria plus either Romania if they win play-off path A, or the winners of play-off path D.
The winners of play-off path A - if Romania do not prevail - will round out Group F, the ‘Group of Death’ featuring Germany, France and Portugal.