There is rarely a dull encounter when England take on Croatia. Their eight meetings over the last 22 years have launched young stars into the spotlight, wrecked managerial careers and delivered triumph and heartbreak in equal measure. As the sides lock horns once more in the Nations League, Sportsmail charts the history of this intriguing rivalry…
ENGLAND 0-0 CROATIA
Friendly, 1996, Wembley
(3-5-1-1): Seaman; Neville, Wright, Pearce; Stone, Gascoigne, Ince, Platt, McManaman; Sheringham; Fowler
England were branded ‘sterile and too predictable’ after a frustrating first meeting. Despite peppering the Croatian goal with 13 shots, Robbie Fowler blazing wide on his first start and Steve McManaman hitting the post, Terry Venables’s profligate side could not find a cutting edge.
Croatia’s team included stars such as Davor Suker, Slaven Bilic and Robert Prosinecki who would finish third at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Paul Gascoigne weaves through midfield but England can’t find a way past Croatia in 1996
After successfully containing England, Croatia manager Miroslav Blazevic said: ‘I thought England were sterile. They are too predictable.
‘Eighty per cent of the danger they create comes from crosses. They’ve been doing that for 50 years but goalkeepers are so good now it doesn’t work anymore.’
Venables, who experimented with the back three formation he would deploy at the Euros, hit back: ‘I hope we keep being predictable if we’re going to create chances like that in every game.’
ENGLAND 3-1 CROATIA
Friendly, 2003, Portman Road
(4-4-2): James (Robinson 46); Neville (Mills 81), Ferdinand (Upson 60), Terry, A Cole (Bridge 60); Beckham (Sinclair 60), Scholes (J Cole 60), Butt (Lampard 27), Gerrard (Murphy 81); Heskey (Beattie 76), Owen (Dyer 60)
With Wembley still under construction, Ipswich was the venue for the first of Frank Lampard’s 29 international goals.
The Chelsea midfielder struck a trademark 25-yard thunderbolt to wrap up a comfortable victory for Sven Goran Eriksson’s side.
David Beckham, back on English soil for the first time since his move to Real Madrid, opened the scoring from the penalty spot before crossing for Michael Owen to nod in the second.
It was a good night all round for Chelsea as John Terry finished the match wearing the captain’s armband.
Wayne Rooney roars with David Beckham and Paul Scholes after a dream double at Euro 2004
CROATIA 2-4 ENGLAND
Euro 2004, Estadio da Luz, Lisbon
(4-4-2): James; G Neville, Terry, Campbell, Cole; Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard (P Neville 84), Scholes (King 70);Rooney (Vassell 72), Owen
The night Wayne Rooney had England dreaming they could go all the way at Euro 2004. Having scored twice against Switzerland in the previous group game, the 18-year-old was at the double again in a scintillating attacking display.
‘I cannot remember a player of his age making such an impact on a major tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden,’ gushed Eriksson after the game. ‘He’s not only a good goalscorer, he is a complete footballer.’
Paul Scholes and Lampard were also on target to set up a quarter- final showdown with Portugal… and that was where Rooney and England’s tournament ended.
After losing their star striker to a broken foot in the first half, England suffered yet more penalty shootout heartbreak.
Paul Robinson was left dejected after his error helped hand Croatia a 2-0 win in 2006
CROATIA 2-0 ENGLAND
Euro 2008 qualifier, 2006, Zagreb
(3-5-2): Robinson; Carragher (Wright-Phillips 72), Ferdinand, Terry; Neville, Carrick, Lampard, Parker (Richardson 72), Cole; Crouch (Defoe 72), Rooney
This embarrassing defeat was branded by Sportsmail as a ‘tale of two clowns’ as Paul Robinson’s clanger and Steve McClaren’s experimental tactics cost England.
With England already trailing to Eduardo’s goal, Robinson mis-kicked a Gary Neville back-pass in the second half after the ball bobbled up over a divot. The Tottenham goalkeeper could only watch in horror as the ball trickled into the net.
McClaren admitted after the defeat that his controversial decision to try out a back three was at fault for the defeat. It would not get any better for the under-fire England manager.
It was calamity for Robinson in Zagreb as he mis-kicked Gary Neville’s back pass
The England goalkeeper was left swinging at thin air in the 68th minute of the qualifier
Robinson can only watch on in horror (along with Borat) as the ball trickles into the net
ENGLAND 2-3 CROATIA
Euro 2008 qualifier, Wembley, 2007
(4-1-4-1): Carson; Richards, Campbell, Lescott, Bridge; Barry (Beckham 46); Wright-Phillips (Defoe 46), Gerrard, Lampard, Cole (Bent 80); Crouch
McClaren was the wally with a brolly just over a year later as England failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years.
England only needed a draw to reach the finals in Austria and Switzerland but were 2-0 down after 14 minutes at a rain-soaked Wembley.
Scott Carson — handed his competitive debut — fumbled Niko Kranjcar’s shot into the net and six minutes later Ivica Olic doubled the lead.
Even then, England seemed to have got themselves out of jail in the second half. Lampard scored a penalty before Beckham — on as a half-time substitute — crossed for Peter Crouch to equalise, but there was a sting in the tail.
With 13 minutes to go, Carson was beaten by Mladen Petric’s 25-yard drive, England had no reply and McClaren paid with his job.
Steve McClaren stands in the rain as Euro 2008 qualification slipped away at Wembley
CROATIA 1-4 ENGLAND
2010 World Cup qualifier, Zagreb, 2008
(4-4-2): James; Brown, Ferdinand, Terry (Upson 88), A Cole; Walcott (Beckham 84), Barry, Lampard, J Cole (Jenas 55); Heskey, Rooney
Aged 19, Theo Walcott became England’s youngest-ever hat-trick hero as they exacted revenge for the defeat at Wembley.
In a performance hailed as England’s best since the 5-1 thrashing of Germany in 2001, Fabio Capello’s side ran riot in Zagreb.
Walcott opened the scoring with a low, drilled effort from the edge of the box and doubled his tally after Robert Kovac was sent off in the second half.
Wayne Rooney rifled in a third before sending Walcott scampering clear to complete his treble with his unfavoured left foot.
‘The stud on my right boot broke in the second half, which is why finished the third goal with my left foot,’ the Arsenal winger said after the game.
Walcott, who had been deputising for Beckham, explained the former England captain had inspired his goal glut.
‘At half-time, Beckham told me to be more greedy and I would get goals,’ he explained. ‘At the end he said I had been too greedy!’
Theo Walcott coolly finishes to complete a superb hat-trick and extract some revenge
ENGLAND 5-1 CROATIA
2010 World Cup qualifier, Wembley, 2009
(4-4-2): Green; Johnson, Terry, Upson, Cole; Lennon (Beckham 80), Barry, Lampard Gerrard (Milner 80); Rooney, Heskey (Defoe 59)
England returned to Wembley needing a draw to qualify for the World Cup. Rather than crumble as they had done against Croatia two years earlier, they turned on the style.
Lampard and Steven Gerrard both struck twice and Rooney was also on target to ensure that England racked up their best-ever goal tally in a qualification campaign and booked their place at the finals in South Africa with two games to spare.
‘We are one of the best teams in the world who can play against all the teams out there,’ enthused Capello after the game. That proved to be far from the case when his side arrived at the World Cup nine months later.
CROATIA 2-1 ENGLAND (aet)
2018 World Cup semi-final, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
(3-1-4-2): Pickford; Walker (Vardy 112), Maguire, Stones; Henderson (Dier 97); Trippier, Lingard, Alli, Young (Rose 91); Kane, Sterling (Rashford 74)
Kieran Trippier sent Hyde Park into a pint-throwing frenzy when he curled in a fifth minute free-kick, but after Harry Kane missed a glorious opportunity to put England 2-0 ahead, their hopes faded.
Gareth Southgate’s side could not handle the midfield mastery of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic and the prospect of a first World Cup final on foreign soil slowly slipped away.
Ivan Perisic got the better of Kyle Walker to force extra-time before Mario Mandzukic volleyed in the winner to set up a final showdown with France.
A magical summer may not have ended in World Cup glory for England but the Nations League has given them the opportunity to quickly make amends.
Kieran Trippier celebrates after opening the scoring in the 2018 World Cup semi-final