England vs Croatia
Who said the UEFA Nations League would produce little more drama than glorified friendlies?
Well I certainly wasn’t convinced but if there’s many more matches like this I may have to rethink my stance.
This was one of the UEFA Nations League 2018 highlights so far on an absorbing afternoon at Wembley in which the home side showed conviction and character in abundance.
Highlights of the game
Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane celebrates their goals against Croatia
Before kick-off I heard a BBC football correspondent say he could not recall going to a football match where both teams could win to reach a semi-final and where both could be relegated.
It was that unique us fans!
It was also far from a full house but much more drama like this and England will have no such worries in the future.
In an opening half they dominated against visitors missing the influential Ivan Rakitic, goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic was kept busy, first keeping out Raheem Sterling then England captain Harry Kane who also saw an effort cleared off the line by Tin Jedvaj.
The impressive full-back Ben Chiwell was next to test Kalinic with a swerving drive midway through the first half as England were on top both possession wise and in terms of chances created.
With Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic – who all impressed in the World Cup – on the pitch, Croatia were always going to have their moments.
Despite Rebic failing to emerge for the second half, replaced by Josip Brekalo for his second cap, Croatia were starting to threaten.
Perisic saw a shot saved after Modric, Andrej Kramaric and Perisic teamed up before Kramaric was celebrating moments later as he rounded off a swift counter-attack by cutting back inside and shooting past Jordan Pickford via a deflection off Eric Dier.
The goal against the run of play lifted Croatia who were suddenly in pole position to top the group, three days after a dramatic last-gasp victory over Spain.
Perisic shot wide from a tight angle and saw an effort blocked, as did Nikola Vlasic.
Yet, for what this young England side may lack in guile, they have an abundance of spirit and that was evident in the final 12 minutes.
A long throw-in from young Liverpool defender Joe Gomez was allowed to bounce and reached the danger zone, Kane poked the ball towards goal and there was substitute Jesse Lingard – who had only been on the pitch five minutes – to apply the decisive touch.
At that stage England were still due to finish bottom of the group without another goal and Lingard played another key role moments later and ensured they stayed level by clearing Domagoj Vida’s header off the line.
Then, with Wembley anticipating, Chilwell delivered a free-kick and the alert Kane poked the ball into the net for his 20th international goal.
The one goal had changed everything!
Kane and his players were huddling in celebration a short time later and England had defied the UEFA Nations League 2018 odds.
There’s no doubt in their meetings this year, Croatia have victory in the one that mattered most but as a modicum of revenge, this was sweet for the Three Lions.
This was Kane’s first goal for England in eight games (747 minutes) since netting v Colombia at this summer’s World Cup.
Before this, Croatia had not lost to England since September 2009.
England have won four of their last five matches (drawn one), having won just one of their previous six (drawn one, lost four).
England have won 15 of their last 16 competitive matches at Wembley.
This was England’s 17th game in 2018 – their joint-most matches in a calendar year, also playing 17 times in 1966, the year they were crowned world champions.
By topping their group, England have secured a play-off place for Euro 2020, a safety net should they not progress through the traditional qualifying route.
England’s 2-1 success was the first ever time in 601 competitive matches they have won a game after trailing with 15 minutes remaining.
This was the first time England had come from behind to win in the last 20 minutes of a competitive match since defeating Cameroon 3-2 after extra-time in the World Cup quarter-finals at Italia 90.
There were only 66 hours between Croatia beating Spain and then playing this one.
Top of Form
That’s it now for both nations who can reflect on 2018 with varying degrees of success but success nevertheless.
The draw for the semi-finals of this competition, to be staged in Portugal next June, will be made on December 3.
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