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England v Croatia U21 play-off preview

Published: Thursday 9 October 2014, 10.31CET
England, irresistible in qualifying, have reached the last four final tournaments but Gareth Southgate knows a Croatia side boosted by senior internationals pose a test.
by Ian Holyman
England v Croatia U21 play-off preview
Saido Berahino scored nine of England's 31 goals in Group 1 ©Getty Images
Published: Thursday 9 October 2014, 10.31CET

England v Croatia U21 play-off preview

England, irresistible in qualifying, have reached the last four final tournaments but Gareth Southgate knows a Croatia side boosted by senior internationals pose a test.

• Croatia have been involved in ten previous Under-21 qualifying campaigns but have reached the finals only twice, most recently in Germany in 2004. They have never met England in a competitive fixture.

• Gareth Southgate was named England manager after Stuart Pearce's six-year reign came to a close following the Young Lions' disappointing showing at the 2013 finals; England lost all three of their games in Israel.

• Nenad Gračan took over in October 2013, when predecessor Niko Kovač was installed as senior national team coach after steering the U21s to three victories in three matches. 

• Gračan is counting on four players from the senior squad, each an exciting prospect: Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender Tin Jedvaj, GNK Dinamo Zagreb winger Marko Pjaca, Chelsea FC midfielder Mario Pašalić – on loan at Elche CF – and RB Leipzig forward Ante Rebić. Gračan has also restored FC Rubin Kazan attacker Marko Livaja to the group.

Play-off records (ties): England – W6 L1; Croatia – W2 L3

©Getty Images

Leverkusen's Tin Jedvaj is in the Croatia squad

Qualifying campaigns
England: W9 D1 L0 F31 A2 (Group 1 winners)
Croatia: W6 D1 L1 F20 A5 (Group 5 winners)

• Gareth Southgate's England side made impressive progress, ending the group stage with eight successive wins and sealing a play-off berth before the summer. Nine-goal Saido Berahino is joint-top scorer for the competition.

Croatia's away form was decisive as they negotiated a tough-looking section, four victories from four on their travels helping negate a 2-0 defeat by Switzerland as they edged Ukraine to top spot by virtue of a superior head-to-head record.

Coaches' view
Gareth Southgate, England:
"It's going to be tough. Croatia won the two big games in their group away from home so it'll be a really good test. We're excited about our team. We have a team that has played well and can continue to improve. We knew that whatever happened in the group we had to go through a difficult play-off, and for us it's about maintaining the level of performance we had throughout the group."

Nenad Gračan, Croatia: "We are all really motivated to reach the European Championship and the players are aware of what's at stake. We want to do something we haven't done for a long time. I am happy we have a few players from the senior national team and I am sure we will be more powerful with them in the side."

Last updated: 04/06/15 4.09CET

http://www.uefa.com/under21/season=2015/matches/round=2000413/match=2015235/prematch/preview/index.html#england+croatia