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Why England’s Nations League clash with Croatia will be the game of the season so far

We’ve all got calculators in our pockets these days… and they will come in handy on Sunday.

Imagine a tournament where you can get spanked 6-0 in your opening game and still win your group.

What if we told you that in the same tournament you could get relegated despite not losing a single game?


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Lighten up, friendlies are few and far between now

AFP or licensors
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Lighten up, friendlies are few and far between now

The Nations League – the brain-child of UEFA – has exceeded our exceptions beyond imagination and Sunday’s meeting between England and Croatia is set to be something rather special.

A host of permutations are on the table that will make the occasion feel like the final day of the Premier League season x1000.

Following Croatia’s dramatic 3-2 win over Spain, all three teams in group A4 are still in with a chance of finishing top and making it through to the finals.

Here’s the state of play…

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Pen and paper at the ready as we try to put into layman’s terms the various outcomes.

Despite getting hit-for-six by Spain in their first game, Luka Modric and co could still top the group.

What a time to be alive.

Zlatko Dalic’s side have given themselves a fighting chance after they avenged their earlier humiliation at the hands of Luis Enrique’s side.

A win over England would put Croatia through to the finals with seven points to their name and in turn have damning consequences for Gareth Southgate’s men.

“Where are you going to finish Ivan?”

AFP or licensors
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“Where are you going to finish Ivan?”

All three points for Dalic’s side would see England suffer the humiliation of relegation in the inaugural Nations League and drop down to League B.

The Three Lions would be left to slum it out against the likes of Slovakia and Austria if they were to fall out of the competition’s top tier.

Presumably Sam Allardyce would then get drafted in on an interim basis to get us out of that mess.

He prepped by watching the World Cup in a pub while eating a Big Mac

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He prepped by watching the World Cup in a pub while eating a Big Mac

However if England get the win on Sunday, then the tables would be turned entirely.

Big Sam can continue his pre-match habits as the Three Lions would qualify for the finals with victory against Croatia.

Seven points would be enough to send England through to next summer’s glamour event and relegate Croatia in the process.

Imagine how good this guy will be in a one year

Getty - Contributor
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Imagine how good this guy will be in a one year

What absolutely nobody wants from Sunday’s meeting is a stalemate, with a 0-0 draw not doing anyone any favours.

A bore-draw would relegate Croatia due to their inferior goal difference to England and, in turn, mean Southgate’s men remain in the purgatory realm of League A.

Even more detrimental for the Three Lions would be a score-draw.

If the game features goals but ends level, Croatia can compound the still raw World Cup semi-final defeat and relegate England to League B.

Thankfully Mario Mandzukic has called time on his international career

AP:Associated Press
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Thankfully Mario Mandzukic has called time on his international career

Nations League rules mean Croatia’s away goal(s) against England would see them remain in the competition’s top tier with a better head-to-head record.

Admittedly, there’s a lot to get your head around to fully understand the format of the Nations League.

However you’re only lying to yourself if you don’t admit to watching these fixtures with considerably more interest than you did the friendlies.

England beat Spain away in a competitive match, what isn’t there to like?

AFP or licensors
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England beat Spain away in a competitive match, what isn’t there to like?

The countries involved are fully embracing the new format too.

You only have to look at the scenes that came after Croatia’s last-gasp winner against Spain.

Tin Jedvaj’s 93rd minute goal was celebrated almost as much as Mandzukic’s decisive-strike against England in the World Cup.

You wouldn’t get this after a 2-1 victory over Israel in a friendly

EPA
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You wouldn’t get this after a 2-1 victory over Israel in a friendly

A place in the Nations League finals and glamour ties against the likes of France, Belgium or Portugal is the lucrative carrot that a win on Sunday would bring.

Long live the Nations League.

Any tournament where this could happen is a tournament we love…

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