Fabio Capello points to Wayne Rooney and England's lack of fear when he explains the differences between now and the last time Croatia played at Wembley.
Rooney suffered a freak training-ground injury to miss the previous encounter with Slaven Bilic's men in London, which was the final act of Steve McClaren's reign and the sign that change was required.
Nearly two years later and Capello has turned England around, with seven wins from as many World Cup qualifiers and the chance to book their place at the finals by beating Croatia a week on Wednesday.
It would be a symbolic victory after the shambolic end to McClaren's tenure where defeat to Bilic's side meant failure to reach Euro 2008.
Capello, comparing those dark times to the current situation, said: ''We improved a lot in the confidence because now we play like a team and we can play against every country and we can beat them. Every team. I'm sure of this. They have a belief now.
''I'm excited. Sure. If we go to South Africa it will be important for me and the team. First you have to win to get to South Africa, then you have to play. Getting to South Africa is the first step, then it is step by step. For me success will be qualification.''
Capello is cautious about talking up the chances of victory - at the Football Association's offices at Wembley he touched wood when reminded about the defeat to Croatia in 2007 - but was given a taste of what success means to the country following Ashes glory for England's cricketers.
''I'm happy for them,'' he said. ''I don't know about the future - but I hope. I know how important it is to win and beat the best team in the world. It is like this in every country and in this country because we won the title (World Cup) a long time ago.''
Since Mladen Petric's winner 22 months ago, Capello has taken his side to Zagreb and won 4-1 courtesy of a hat-trick by Theo Walcott, who misses this clash with a back problem.
Rooney shone on that occasion and is approaching this qualifier - and before that the friendly against Slovenia on Saturday - with 10 goals from his last eight international games.
''Rooney is a really important player, he's incredible and young - he can improve a lot with more experience and confidence in himself,'' Capello said. ''That will be really important - to score more goals. He is already scoring but he can improve in everything. When he trains with me he stays a long time on the pitch, this is really, really important to improve.
''He has potential to be one of the best players in the world but it is not always the best player who plays the best World Cup. It depends on the moment when we arrive, if they are in good form or not.''