Giggs praises team’s composure

Wales manager Ryan Giggs said his team showed good composure to beat Slovakia and get their Euro 2020 qualifying off to a winning start.

They won 1-0 at Cardiff City Stadium with a fifth minute goal from Daniel James separating the sides.

Slovakia got their campaign in Group E underway on Friday night, beating Hungary 2-0, Croatia beating Azerbaijan at the same time.

So Wales were made to wait for their own kick-off but reduced the pressure with the early goal.

With Gareth Bale in their line-up they missed chances to extend their lead and the visitors created opportunities of their own, Albert Rusnak and Robert Mak both forcing Wayne Hennessey into saves.

However Wales held on to collect the three points that got them up and running. They, Croatia and Slovakia all have three points at the top of the group.

Afterwards Giggs was delighted with the way his team showed character and composure to get the win.

He said: "It's not easy. I tried to play it down because I knew other teams played first but you do feel the pressure. There were so many outstanding performances and we dug in at the end to get that clean sheet.

"In the first half we showed real composure. We rode our luck a little bit in the second half and I thought we could have scored a few more in the first but some of the play was fantastic, paired with great determination."

Wales have a tough task in their next Euro 2020 qualifying game, playing World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia away in June.

Wales were semi-finalists at the last European Championships, in 2016 and will hope to feature next year when the tournament is being held throughout Europe rather than in one host country.

However, England's Wembley Stadium will be used for the semi-finals and final. England got their own campaign off to a winning start, beating the Czech Republic 5-0 on Friday night.

They travel to Montenegro for their second game on Monday and are 1/3 for the win with the hosts 10/1 and the draw 7/2.

Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick against the Czech Republic and is 15/8 to score at any time on Monday while England are 7/1 to win the game 3-0.

View all Soccer betting

Kane focused on silverware

Skipper Harry Kane believes if England win the Nations League in the summer it will be a greater achievement than reaching the World Cup semi-finals last year.

The Three Lions reached the last four of the Nations League by topping a group which also included Spain and Croatia, with England drawn to face the Netherlands in the semi-finals.

First up is the small matter of getting their European Championship qualifying campaign under way against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, but Kane is already looking forward to the challenge ahead in the summer.

He told reporters: "To have a chance to win a trophy in an England shirt does not happen not very often. If we win that trophy, in my eyes, it's a better year than 2018.

"Hopefully, we can win some silverware. Of course, 2018 was fantastic but for me, the main thing is the team and we want to win things.

"People now expect us to do well and before the World Cup there was no expectation, so it's great that we've turned that around.

"We're the only team from the World Cup semi-finals to have got through their Nations League group.

"That was big for us, to prove that it wasn't just a one-off – that this team were really building for something special."

England can be backed at 7/4 to win the inaugural Nations League, with the Netherlands priced at 3/1 and Portugal 2/1.

View all Soccer betting

Rakitic happy with Barca stay

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic insists he sees his long-term future with Barcelona, having been linked with a possible move away from the Camp Nou.

The 30-year-old is under contract with Barca until the summer of 2021, but some reports have suggested that the Catalan giants could be prepared to allow Rakitic to move on, with the Croatian having joined the club in the summer of 2014 from Sevilla.

However, Rakitic, who is closing in on 250 appearances for the Blaugrana, says he has no desire to move on and would even like to extend his stay beyond the end of his current contract.

He told Mundo Deportivo: "It's a good question for the coach or the president. The people who know me know that I'm only here to play. I face it calmly, with a lot of excitement.

"I'm 30 and I'm in the best moment of my career. I want to enjoy football and Barca.

"I want to be here and, if I can, to renew and be here for many more years. But, before anything else, have a great season and win a lot of trophies."

Rakitic has helped Barca to 12 trophies during his time at the Camp Nou, including three Spanish league titles and Champions League glory in 2015.

The Blaugrana are currently five points clear at the top of the La Liga standings, while they have been paired with Lyon in the last-16 of the Champions League.

Barca are 1/10 to be crowned champions of Spain for the 26th time, while they are available at 9/2 to win Europe's premier club competition for the sixth time in their history.

View all Soccer betting

Ballon d’Or accolade for Modric

Luka Modric admitted it was special to have been awarded the 2018 Ballon d'Or after impressing for Real Madrid and Croatia throughout the year.

The 33-year-old was part of the Real Madrid side that won the Champions League for the third season in a row in May before helping his country battle their way to a surprising World Cup 2018 final appearance.

Modric's achievement means he is the first player other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to claim the award in more than a decade.

Portugal international Ronaldo, who left Real Madrid and joined Juventus in the summer, came second while Barcelona's Messi was fifth, behind French duo Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

Modric has enjoyed an outstanding year as he was also named the world's top male player at the Best FIFA Football Awards and received the Golden Ball award for the best player at World Cup 2018.

He said: "Maybe in the past there are some players who could have won the Ballon d'Or like Xavi, Andres Iniesta or [Wesley] Sneijder but people finally now are looking at someone else [other than Messi and Ronaldo].

"This award is for all the players who probably deserved to win it and didn't. It was a really special year for me.

"It is difficult to express my emotion and how I feel in words. It is something unique for me. It was very special."

Croatia are 25/1 to win Euro 2020 while Real Madrid are 10/1 to triumph in the 2018/19 Champions League.

Lyon and Norway striker Ada Hegerberg won the Womens's Ballon d'Or while Mbappe was handed the Kopa Trophy which is awarded to the best Under-21 player and is selected by former Ballon d'Or winners.

Southgate pride at making finals

England boss Gareth Southgate said he was proud of his players after they beat Croatia to reach the Nations League finals next summer.

England, despite dominating at Wembley, were a goal down and minutes away from relegation to the second tier of the competition.

However, two goals in the last 12 minutes sent England through to the finals in Portugal next summer and relegated Croatia with Spain finishing second in the group.

Croatia, who beat England in Russia in the World Cup 2018 semi-final, were on course to inflict another blow, scoring against the run of play through Andrej Kramaric.

That goal, deflected off Eric Dier, looked set to qualify Croatia and relegate England but two late goals sealed a deserved victory for Southgate's team.

Skipper Harry Kane was involved in both goals. He set up the equaliser on 78 minutes, his shot being blocked on the line but Jesse Lingard, on as a substitute, was there to force the ball home.

That made the score 1-1, a scoreline which would still have relegated England but they got the winner with just five minutes remaining.

The home side were awarded a free kick wide out on the left side but Ben Chilwell sent in an excellent free kick and Kane reached it first to divert the ball home and secure the vital win.

It was a result and performance that builds on the encouraging World Cup 2018 and confirms the progress being made by Southgate and his young team.

The England boss spoke afterwards of his pride, but poked fun at the way the two goals came.

He told Sky Sports: "I'm very proud first and foremost. I thought we dictated a lot of the game and had good chances in the first half.

"Then we let quite a soft goal in and it's a real test of resilience and patience. We rode our luck with their counter-attacks with one cleared off the line.

"For all the great play, we scored from a long throw-in and set-piece. Maybe we're not a new England and we're the England we've always been!"

England are 5/2 to win the Nations League next summer with hosts Portugal 10/3.

England are 8/1 to win Euro 2020 while France are 7/2.

View all Soccer betting

Rakitic set for short lay-off

Barcelona look set to be without the services of Ivan Rakitic for several weeks after the Croatia international sustained a hamstring injury.

The 30-year-old former FC Basel, Schalke 04 and Sevilla midfielder had to be substituted midway through the second half of Croatia's 3-2 Nations League win against Spain on Thursday.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic had already revealed that Rakitic would not travel with the rest of the squad to London for Sunday's clash with England and Barcelona have now confirmed the player's injury.

Dalic said: "We have the solutions and we go to Wembley to enjoy the football."

Rakitic was already unavailable for Barca's next game against Atletico Madrid on 24th November as he is suspended after being sent off during last weekend's 4-3 home defeat to Real Betis.

Croatia will qualify for the finals of the Nations League if they beat England on Sunday, but will be relegated to League B if they lose.

Rakitic helped his country reach the World Cup 2018 final and featured in the victories against England, Russia, Denmark, Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland, as well as the 4-2 defeat to France in the final.

Croatia are available at 10/3 to beat England on Sunday, while Barcelona are 4/9 to win the La Liga title once again this season.

Lovren ready for fiery contest

Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren is keen to silence his critics when Croatia play England in the Nations League on Sunday.

The 29-year-old former Southampton star came under fire for several high-profile mistakes following his transfer to Anfield in the summer of 2014.

However, he was part of the Croatia squad that reached the World Cup 2018 final, coming from behind to defeat England 2-1 in the last four in Russia.

Sunday's encounter at Wembley is a crunch encounter as, following Croatia's 3-2 victory against Spain on Thursday, both teams know that a win will see them top League A's Group 4 and advance to the Nations League finals.

"It's a final against England, so of course we will be strong," insisted Lovren. "I think it will be a fiery game against them – they know us and what they can expect from us, and we will not run away from that.

"I love playing against England. I know the players in the Premier League and I have competed against them."

England drew 0-0 against Croatia behind closed doors in Rijeka recently and Lovren is anticipating another tight contest.

He added: "People criticise me, but they didn't say much when England didn't score against us in the last game. They will have extra motivation after the World Cup, but I think we will be brave.

"It will not be a friendly. We have beaten Spain and we want to win it now."

Croatia are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet against Gareth Southgate's team and 16/1 to win the Nations League outright next summer.

Southgate relishes Croatia clash

England head coach Gareth Southgate is readying his players for a 'very special tie' against Croatia in the Nations League on Sunday.

Having watched the Three Lions claim a 3-0 friendly win over the United States at Wembley on Thursday evening, Southgate came off to find that the Croats had won 3-2 at home Spain.

That means an England win over their World Cup semi-final conquerors at Wembley at the weekend would ensure that they top their Nations League group and qualify for the final stages of the competition.

Southgate told reporters: "We knew tonight would be tough for Spain.

"Croatia have shown again their resilience, it sets Sunday up to be a very special tie. I'm sure whoever devised the Nations League is sitting smugly somewhere in Switzerland.

"We know not to underestimate Croatia, they have had a huge lift and the great thing is it sets up a brilliant game at the end of what has been a really exciting year.

"We've got a brilliant game to come now, this is what the Nations League is all about."

England are now 7/1 to win the Nations League, with world champions France 9/4 and Belgium 11/4.

Meanwhile, Southgate was pleased with the performance he saw against the USA, a game in which he fielded a number of fringe players, including Callum Wilson, who marked his debut with the final goal of the game.

He told BBC Radio 5 live: "We wanted to use this game to look at young players. We had a really inexperienced team out there, so they've come through and learned a lot.

"Some of our attacking play in the first half-hour in particular was really exciting."

View all Soccer betting

Suker hopes for laidback La Furia Roja

Croatia legend Davor Suker hopes Spain show less focus on Thursday than the pair's most recent meeting.

The Vatreni are currently a side in transition after losing in the final of World Cup 2018 and have inevitably looked sluggish in their two Nations League outings.

Zlatko Dalic's men made their debut in the new tournament in September but were second best in Elche as they were outclassed 6-0 by their Spanish opponents.

They have since drawn 0-0 against England and need a pair of wins from their last two Group A4 matches to have any chance of topping the pool.

The first of those comes on Thursday in Zagreb when La Furia Roja arrive looking to bounce back from last month's 3-2 defeat to the Three Lions.

Croatia are 14/5 to win at the Stadion Maksimir, with the draw 12/5 and Luis Enrique's side 23/20.

Suker will be a keen observer having represented his country 69 times, while he also played in Spain over an eight-year period which saw him feature for both Sevilla and Real Madrid.

The 50-year-old admits it is unlikely that the heavy scoreline will repeat itself, especially with so much to play for in the quest to eventually qualify for Euro 2020.

After the embarrassment of Elche, he believes his country's national team are finding their feet again after recovering from their post-World Cup hangover and can rise to the challenge.

"I have great respect for Spain," he is quoted as saying by Marca. "I know that Elche is not going to repeat itself and I hope that Spain relaxes a bit.

"It's Spain and it's a high level and ours were down after the World Cup.

"We understood our goal is to play the European Championship."

Croatia are 25/1 to win Euro 2020.

View all Soccer betting

England hit by Trippier absence

England have been hit by the news Kieran Trippier will miss their upcoming games against the United States and Croatia because of a groin injury.

The 28-year-old Tottenham right wing-back is a key player in Three Lions' boss Gareth Southgate's plans and was a key man in the nation's charge to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, scoring in the last-four defeat against Croatia.

Trippier did report for duty on Monday, but after being assessed by the England medical staff at St George's Park, he was immediately sent back to Spurs because of the injury which he suffered in Saturday's 1-0 Premier League win at Crystal Palace.

It means Southgate could opt to give Liverpool starlet Trent Alexander-Arnold a chance to hold down a first-team spot when England face the USA in a friendly at Wembley on Thursday, before hosting Croatia in the Nations League on Sunday.

Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck had already withdrawn from the squad after suffering a badly broken ankle in the Gunners' goalless Europa League draw aganst Sporting Lisbon last Thursday.

England are 1/4 to defeat the USA, which will see the nation's record goalscorer Wayne Rooney handed one final outing in a Three Lions' shirt, while the United States are priced at 11/1 and the draw is 9/2.

View all Soccer betting