Tonight is a big opportunity for Southgate’s England in Croatia

Harry Kane and the boys can take a step forward tonight.

Because the Modric-Rakitic team peaked in Russia.

That was the best Croatia have had since Euro 96.

Their team won’t be as good again for quite a while because international football is all about cycles, about groups of players who evolve together and find out they can win and win again and then fancy themselves against anybody.

After World Cups,new cohorts of players are often developed.

Will any of the younger Croatians become as classy as Rakitic, Modric and Perisic? I doubt it. And they’ll miss Mandzukic, a very cunning predator who excels in those fleeting moments when a game can be decided.

Kane, like many England players in since 1966, is a reliable and rugged soldier.

He’s also a top gladiator. Yes, I know gladiators were solo warriors who fought other in the amphitheatres of Rome. And football is a 14-man game. But there are many moments in football when it’s one against one. And Kane has consistently shown an ability to dominate in these moments. To get to the ball first, to hold off a defender and shoot.

England’s next opponents are Spain, who thrashed Wales 4-1 last night in Cardiff.

Paco Alcacer, a nimble sharpshooter who resembles Lacazette in style, scored the first goal and the third in the Principality Stadium.

Football is always about players. If Alcacer was playing for Croatia tonight, I’d be worried. Their strikers Rebric and Kramaric are physical and quite fast.

But I’m gonna put my balls on the rails and say : Engerland can handle Kramaric and Rebric.

Without Trippier, their set-piece specialist and tidiest passer, England might stutter.

Their problem, as I kept pointing out during the World Cup, is in centrefield, where we don’t have guys who who can slow the game down as well as speed it up.

Southgate’s style was : keep the ball moving, hit Harry early, sprint forward to support him. Doing that, we won the free-kicks, corners and penalties that got us to the semi-final and excited millions back home.

He has now called up young midfielders with more craft: Harry Winks, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and James Maddison.

We still don’t have anybody as classy as Kovacic, who has shown his range of skills for Chelsea in every game he’s played so far.

But if Southgate can find a couple of guys who can do some of the things that Kovacic does, his team will be more solid as well as more fluent.

This is the first time England have ever played a match behind closed doors.

Yesterday John Stones said: It’s gonna be weird to hear each other shouting on the pitch.

I hope Stones realises Luka Modric can understand everything he’s shouting. All their players speak English, which they start learning in primary school.

On Monday night England play Spain in Seville.

Spain are rocking under new boss Luis Enrique and that match will be much tougher than tonight’s encounter in an empty stadium.

Full disclosure: I was optimistic on July 8th :

England just powerful enough to edge out creative Croatia