LONDON • Gareth Southgate has challenged England to end their "brilliant year" in memorable fashion by beating their World Cup conquerors Croatia at Wembley today to reach next June's Nations League Finals.
His side defied expectations earlier this year by reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990, when they were beaten by Croatia after extra time in a gruelling clash.
"It has been a brilliant year. Whatever happens on Sunday, we've had real shoots of progress and achieved some outstanding results and really good performances and blooded a lot of new players," said the England coach on Friday.
England can now gain a measure of revenge over Croatia in their winner-takes-all Group 4 showdown.
"We didn't get over the line in the summer and we want to try to prove that we have learnt from that, and have improved," Southgate added.
"We were very keen that we moved on from the World Cup as quickly as possible.
"I think everybody wants to get to another stage out of a group which is as tough as there has been in this competition."
If England beat Croatia, they will win the group and progress to the Finals of the new competition - which offers the chance of qualification for Euro 2020 - as well as relegate Croatia.
A win for Croatia would take Zlatko Dalic's men to the semi-finals and send England down to League B. A draw will send current group leaders Spain through.
England will also be relegated with a score draw, while Croatia will drop down a level if the match finishes goalless.
Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic will miss the match after the Barcelona star returned to his club due to an unspecified injury.
But Tin Jedvaj, whose stoppage-time goal helped Croatia to a 3-2 victory over Spain this week, insists his side are confident of inflicting more misery on England.
"In Russia, we proved that we could beat them without any problems and that they aren't better than us," he said.
"We might even be the favourites despite the fact that we are playing away.
"They are England but we believe that we can win and end the group stage on top."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN