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Can England avenge the heartbreak of losing that 2018 World Cup semi-final or will Gareth Southgate's men slip up in their Euro 2020 opener? Our experts Peter Crouch, Chris Sutton, Jamie Redknapp and Steph Houghton have their say

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Daily Mail
Daily Mail
 2021-06-11

England's first game of Euro 2020 is almost upon us as Gareth Southgate's side take on Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.

Can the Three Lions get revenge for their heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat in 2018 or will they buckle under the pressure in front of a home crowd?

Sportsmail's esteemed line-up of pundits - Peter Crouch, Chris Sutton, Jamie Redknapp and Steph Houghton have had their say on how they think England's opener will go.

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Croatia knocked England out of the 2018 World Cup after Mario Mandzukic's extra-time winner

PETER CROUCH: 2-1 to England

The first game of a tournament should be straightforward: go out, do what you have been doing in your preparations and move forward confidently.

Really, though, the first game is unlike any you have ever played. It's horrible. The tension leads you to do things you never would normally, the nerves are such that the experience of winning revolves around relief rather than elation.

I know how the boys Gareth Southgate picks for duty will be feeling. It's 15 years since I started against Paraguay in the 2006 World Cup and still, to this day, I can remember the apprehension about that game in Frankfurt.

Paraguay? No disrespect to them, but it should have been straightforward with the team we had. I knew it would be anything bar that from the moment before kick-off when we got into a huddle. Some of us had huddles with our clubs but it was never something we did with England.

Why did we do it then? I'd say it's because we all knew this was no ordinary game. When you play for England in a tournament, no matter where you are in the world, you know that back home the country has stopped. Everyone is watching, everyone has an opinion. It's pressure like no other.

The players are going to have to deal with nerves and they are also going to have to take care of horrible opponents — in respect of them always seeming to cause us trouble.

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Chris Sutton tips Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Declan Rice to start against Croatia on Sunday

Whenever Croatia come on the horizon, they remind me of the best moment I experienced in an England shirt — and the worst. The infamous game in November 2007, when they stopped us going to Euro 2008, should have been one I looked back on with undiluted happiness.

I scored in the 65th minute. David Beckham fizzed a ball into the area, I took it on my chest and I remember the noise as I turned my shot in. From 2-0 down to 2-2, I was going to be the man who sent us to a major tournament. Twelve minutes later, Mladen Petric scored and we were out.

Losing with England on the big stage sickens you to the stomach but, all being well, it's not something this squad will experience. Croatia are a terrific team and Luka Modric, my old mate, shows no signs of ageing. His mastery is something else.

But I look at our players and see young men who want the ball and want to impose themselves on games. They are ready to shine. Be ruthless, boys. Don't worry about the nerves.

CHRIS SUTTON: 2-1 to England

Before the 2018 World Cup, all of the 11 players who lined up for England's opener against Tunisia started at least one of the two warm-up games. That sort of preparation wasn't possible this time.

Against Romania and Austria, there were no Chelsea or Manchester City players in the squad, owing to their involvement in the Champions League final. Representatives from those clubs could make up half of the outfield picks against Croatia.

So it's difficult to know how much we should read into those friendly wins over Romania and Austria.

But Gareth Southgate did use a back four in both matches and that's the way to go against Croatia, too. I feel it suits this England side better than the back three being mooted. It gives them greater balance and Southgate's side would still be able to control the game in the way that he wants.

There would then be three in midfield, most likely Declan Rice with Mason Mount and Phil Foden on either side, and three in attack. Harry Kane opened his 2018 World Cup account with two goals against Tunisia in a 2-1 win. Same again, please, Kane and Co.

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England began Euro '96 in sticky fashion with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland at Wembley

JAMIE REDKNAPP: 1-1 draw

There are shades of Euro '96 here, and England can open with a 1-1 draw, then head into a crucial second group game against Scotland at Wembley.

A draw wouldn't be the worst result for Gareth Southgate. England and Croatia will be nervous. That's natural, so I expect a cautious opening. Croatia are a good side, so this shouldn't be seen as a gimme. Of course an opening draw makes the group games against Scotland and the Czech Republic key. There will be pressure on England's players to deliver, but they can handle it.

We did in 1996, thankfully, as Paul Gascoigne turned Wembley into his personal playground. England can likewise kickstart these Euros with a point then collect the rest necessary to reach the knockout stages.

STEPH HOUGHTON: 2-0 to England

I see a victory for England to get us off to a flier. It will be a close game and Croatia will make it difficult.

England will have to be patient, but as soon as they get the first goal, Croatia will have to come out a bit and with our pace, energy and attacking threat, we can hit them on the counter.

We have the players to unlock a defence. Mason Mount is one of my players to watch for the tournament and he could be key to England doing that.

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