WHATEVER the outcome, it is safe to assume that England will not have been involved in many stranger internationals than the one they are going to play in the Croatian city of Rijeka tomorrow.

With UEFA having ordered Croatia to play two home matches behind-closed-doors as part of their punishment for a swastika being sprayed on the pitch ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifying game against Italy, tomorrow’s Nations League game will be completely devoid of atmosphere. If you were being mischievous, you could suggest that the Arsenal and Manchester United players in Gareth Southgate’s squad should feel at home.

It will certainly be a world away from that tumultuous night in Moscow when England and Croatia last locked horns in the World Cup semi-finals. Back then, the biggest prize in football was on the line. Tomorrow, with both teams having already lost to Spain in their opening game of the new-look Nations League, the stakes will be significantly lower.

That is not to say England’s latest post-World Cup appearance is an irrelevance though. In the weeks and months to come, it could come to be regarded as the moment at which Southgate conclusively drew a line under this summer’s tournament in Russia and began to fully train his sights on both the European Championships in 2020 and the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

If the squad for last month’s Spain game represented evolution, Southgate’s selection for tomorrow’s trip to Croatia and Monday night’s return game against Spain in Seville suggests revolution is in the air. If nothing else, a new generation is flexing its muscles and hoping to overthrow the old guard.

Jadon Sancho’s maiden call-up is the most obvious manifestation of Southgate’s new broom, and while the 18-year-old is unlikely to start tomorrow’s game, he should make his senior debut at some stage over the next four days.

Sancho is the first player born this millennium to be called up to the England team, and having turned his back on Manchester City just over a year ago in order to secure a move to German side Borussia Dortmund, the teenager is set to be rewarded for his boldness.

Too many talented English youngsters are happy to sit tight, warming the bench or trotting out in the Carabao Cup for one of the Premier League big boys. Sancho opted for a different route, and finds himself rapidly becoming a fixture in Borussia Dortmund’s first team despite his tender years.

Southgate has to be careful he does not tread on the toes of the Premier League clubs that supply most of his players, but by selecting Sancho at such at an early stage of his development, he has given his tacit backing to other youngsters who might be looking abroad for a first-team opportunity. If Sancho becomes a trail-blazer, that can only be a good thing for the English game.

On far too many occasions in the past, the English squad at a World Cup finals has been one of the few to contain no players who ply their trade outside their home country. Experiencing alternative footballing cultures broadens both a player’s skill-set and their mind, and Southgate will be understandably keen for Sancho’s experience to become much less unusual.

Already, others are following in his footsteps. Jonathan Panzo, a member of England’s World Cup-winning Under-17s side last summer, left Chelsea’s academy earlier this year to join Monaco.

In June, 16-year-old Noni Madueke signed from PSV Eindhoven from Tottenham, having rejected a professional contract with Manchester United. Keanen Bennetts, also formerly with Tottenham, is a 19-year-old hoping to make his mark in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach.

If the trio want to compare experiences, not only can they talk to Sancho, but they can also discuss the pros and cons of playing abroad with another of Southgate’s latest call-ups, Mason Mount.

Mount is creating headlines with Championship side Derby County this season, having agreed a year-long loan from his parent club, Chelsea, but last season, the 19-year-old played for Vitesse Arnhem. He arrived in the Netherlands unable to speak a word of Dutch, but ended the campaign as Vitesse’s Player of the Year, having scored 13 goals and supplied nine assists.

It may be coincidental that Southgate has promoted both Sancho and Mount at the same time; it may be that he is trying to send a not-so-subtle message about looking beyond the traditional route to first-team football in this country. Either way, as the domestic talent pool in the Premier League continues to shrink, it may well be a sign of things to come.

Both Sancho and Mount will hope to make their debut in either Croatia or Spain, along with James Maddison, who has not played abroad – unless you count a loan spell at Aberdeen – but who earned his stripes in the Football League with Coventry City and Norwich City before joining Leicester City this summer.

Again, Southgate seems to be sending out a message that you do not need to be tied to one of the established ‘big six’ to get a chance in England colours.

That is not to say he will look a gift horse in the mouth though, and of all the players to be involved in this week’s matches, Chelsea’s Ross Barkley is set for a bigger double-header than most.

Barkley’s last appearance in an England squad came in May 2016, and the midfielder was not even considered for a place in Russia as he failed to make a domestic appearance under Antonio Conte between the end of January and start of May.

His career has been kick-started by the appointment of Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea boss, and his performances at the heart of the Blues midfield have earned him a recall to the England ranks.

Once hailed as a potential successor to Paul Gascoigne, Barkley boasts many of the attributes that England were crying out for during the summer. Dynamic, powerful and adventurous with the ball at his feet, the 24-year-old could be a valuable addition to England’s midfield mix. He certainly stands out as being stylistically different to just about any other player currently in the squad.

It is a stretch to suggest he could be England’s Luka Modric – but had he been playing in his current form in July’s World Cup semi-final, perhaps he would have closed the gap between Southgate’s side and the team that beat them.

If nothing else, tomorrow’s game provides him with an opportunity to make his case.