England’s entire 25-man squad trained on Saturday morning as Gareth Southgate fine-tuned preparations for the Nations League encounter with Croatia.
Sunday’s match at Wembley is a winner-takes-all clash, with the Three Lions winning Group A4 and reaching the Finals should they beat their World Cup semi-final foes.
Southgate is planning widespread changes from Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win against the United States, where Wayne Rooney bid farewell to the national team with a 120th and final cap.
The 33-year-old has now left a group that has been bolstered by the return of Joe Gomez and Luke Shaw, having missed the USA friendly with minor knocks.
The duo trained on Friday and were again in action at Tottenham’s training ground on Saturday as the 25-strong group knuckled down.
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has admitted 2018 has been a deeply disappointing 12 months for his team.
Ireland will play their final fixture of the calendar year in Denmark on Monday evening having won only once in eight outings to date, far from the ideal preparation for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, which get under way in March.
O’Neill has used many of those fixtures to blood new players and experiment with alternative systems, but he is well aware that results have been disappointing.
Asked if expected to have made more progress during the year, he said: “I would have hoped to, absolutely. I would like to have thought we could have found a wee bit more going forward, maybe have got an established goalscorer.
“But it hasn’t been. It’s certainly been a disappointing year in that aspect, no question about it, and we have to regroup.”
However, O’Neill remains convinced that his team will more than make a fist of qualification – indeed, he insisted last month that they would qualify.
He said: “The bigger picture is the Euro qualifiers. There is no question about that, regardless of what happens on Monday night and that has always been the case.
“I think we will be ready for it. We were ready for it a couple of years ago. We had a really strong battle to qualify for the Euros and we got through to the play-offs.
“Hopefully some of the players are coming back. I’m hoping one or two of the young lads in and around the scene, who have only played a couple of games, can come through.
“But like everything else, we have to try and score a goal. That would be nice.”
Mexico’s interim coach Ricardo Ferretti admitted his side would have to improve before next week’s second meeting with Argentina after suffering a 2-0 defeat in Cordoba.
Ramiro Funes Mori put the hosts ahead with a fine header after 44 minutes and their deserved victory was sealed seven minutes before time when Mexico’s Isaac Brizuel found his own net.
Ferretti, who stepped in as manager on an interim basis for a second time in August, has now seen his side lose four of their last five matches, and suggested he will give other players a chance to start in the final fixture of the year in Mendoza.
Quoted on the team’s official Twitter page, he said after the loss at Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes: “We started well, but Argentina was winning possession of the ball.
“If you are not effective, you are taking a very big risk of losing, the experience of this match is very useful.
“We must rethink several things for the next game, I will give the opportunity to other players.”
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, also at the helm on a temporary basis, fielded a largely inexperienced team for the international friendly following the absence of Lionel Messi, who has not played for the national side since the World Cup.
In his fifth game as boss, Scaloni said he was pleased to add another win to his tenure following victories over Guatemala and Iraq, a goalless draw with Colombia and a loss to Brazil.
Quoted on the team’s Twitter page, he said: “It was a different game. They play a very difficult football to counteract. You had to try to get out fast. They complicated us at times, but the team knew how to suffer.
“Beyond the first few minutes, I think we got little. Ramiro Funes Mori is back playing after his injury. We give him confidence and he responds.”
He went on to praise his current roster of young players, which features 18 players under 26 and 19 players with no more than 10 caps.
“I’m happy because some of the players were able to make their debuts today, we’re adding up and important things are coming for them, the guys have to know that this shirt weighs.
“We know how to defend, we know how to suffer and that in football is important. We’re excited about what’s coming.”