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England-Croatia match in empty stadium will be ‘strange environment’ – Luka Modric

Paul Mariner is delighted for Gareth Southgate’s England extension and breaks down the UEFA Nations League roster to face Croatia and Spain.

Luka Modric has admitted Croatia and England must overcome the “strange” atmosphere of facing each other in a stadium without supporters in Friday’s UEFA Nations League clash in Rijeka.

The hosts will serve the second game of a two-match UEFA punishment after a swastika symbol was bleached onto the pitch prior to the Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy in Split in Jun 2015.

With the game being played behind closed doors at the HNK Stadion, only match officials, VIPs from the Croatian and English associations, team staff, media, and police officers will be allowed into the 8,000-capacity arena.

The game will be the first time that England have played in an empty stadium — Croatia played the first game of their two-match stadium ban against Bulgaria in October 2015 — and the Real Madrid midfielder says the atmosphere will be an unusual test for both teams.

“It will be tough,” Modric said. “It’s a strange environment for both teams, playing in front of an empty stadium.

“It’s important for us to achieve a good result. It’s hard to play without fans, but we have to adapt to that.

“I don’t think anyone has the advantage in this kind of game. Nobody is accustomed to play in front of an empty stadium.

“Maybe we’ve had some experience of it with the game already, but it is what it is. We have to adapt as quickly as possible.”

Croatia, who defeated England in the World Cup semifinal before losing to France in the final, go into the game stung by last month’s 6-0 Nations League defeat in Spain.

And Modric admits Zlatko Dalic’s players are determined to bounce back from that loss in their first home game in Croatia since the World Cup.

“Tomorrow is an important game, especially after the game against Spain,” Modric said. “We want to feel better about ourselves.

“We’ll see if England are better than during the World Cup. They have a lot of the same players, but, with some injuries, some new ones too.

“Sometimes, when we play against weaker teams, everyone says: ‘Oh, you won because you played weaker teams.’

“Now we are playing this [Nations League]. This is what our coach likes, playing big teams, a great test.

“I think it’s a good competition. Maybe the game against Spain came a bit early for us after the World Cup, but tomorrow will be better: a great test; a great team against us.

“But we like playing those type of games. The Nations League is a great competition.”

Modric and several of his Croatia teammates accused England of underestimating them prior to the World Cup semifinal in Moscow — a game won 2-1 by Croatia after Kieran Trippier had given England the lead.

But Modric insists that the criticism was not aimed at England’s players.

“When I said that after the game, it wasn’t meant to be the players or the head coach, but more in regards to the media and some commentary we could read or watch,” he said. “We felt a bit disrespected, not appreciated as much as we deserve.

“It was extra motivation for our team, even in a World Cup semifinal when you don’t need extra motivation.

“That’s how we felt. That’s how I felt. Is that a problem for England? That’s something you have to answer yourself and analyse.”

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