England 2-1 Croatia: Late Harry Kane winner sends Gareth Southgate's impressive Three Lions into dreamland
PUBLISHED: 16:15 18 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:34 18 November 2018
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England hosted Croatia at Wembley in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday. Read on for Layth Yousif's match report.
A late Harry Kane winner sent Wembley into raptures as Gareth Southgate’s England overturned a 1-0 deficit against all the odds to beat Croatia 2-1 and qualify for the finals of the UEFA Nations League next summer.
In a wonderful attacking game of football a 78th minute strike from substitute Jesse Lingard levelled a 57th minute opener from Hoffenheim’s attacking midfielder Andrej Kramaric.
Spurs forward Kane then slotted home from close range to put the home side ahead with five minutes remaining to prompt wild scenes of celebration here in North West London.
As if to underline the vagaries of this new tournament – which, to give it credit has reinvigorated the concept of international friendlies – once they went behind the Three Lions needed two goals not only to beat the Croats and top the group, but also to avoid relegation from Group 4.
They did so handsomely to banish the memory of 130 days previously when the Croats knocked England out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage.
It was also overdue revenge for one of the worst evenings in English football history when Croatia overcame the hosts 3-2 on a rain lashed night at the national stadium, three days short of 11 years ago.
Sunday saw a magnificent performance from a young, vibrant England side that fearlessly attacked with verve, style and vigour throughout.
If they could only have added composure to the list Southgate’s side would have been contemplating a trip to Portugal far earlier in a bid to contest the semi-finals of this misunderstood competition which has been steadily attracting support and interest.
The 78,221 in attendance on a gloriously sunny late autumnal afternoon were certainly enthralled with the action on offer.
Manchester City’s talented Raheem Sterling nearly put England ahead on 18 minutes but keeper Lovre Kalinic proved equal to the task and blocked the one-on-one after a perceptive Delph through ball.
Kane followed up on the edge of the area with the goalkeeper out of position forcing Tin Jedvaj to make a goalline clearance. The ball fell straight back to Kane but his second shot was saved by the keeper on his left-hand side.
England had other chances as they poured forward against Croatia who began with World Cup star Luka Modric in the starting XI, alongside Ivan Perisic and Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren, even if Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic was missing after having picked up a knock.
Sterling was in impish form as he and the impressive Marcus Rashford teased the Croat defence while Ben Chilwell tried to lift one over the top before it bounced out for a goal kick.
Sterling raced down the right channel before attempting to lift the ball into the box for the predatory Kane but Dejan Lovren’s outstretched leg blocked the chance.
From the resulting corner the ball is headed clear but only to Ben Chilwell, who drilled it back forcing Kalinic to make a low save.
Four minutes before half-time Chilwell swung in a cross in from the left that ended at the feet of Ross Barkley who attempted a volley which flew into the side-netting – as the sides went in goalless despite an impressive display from Southgate’s Lions.
The second half started in the same vein but without an end product England were made to pay when Kramaric showed superb composure and quick feet on the ball in a crowded box before unleashing a powerful shot that took a slight deflection off Dier to fly past Pickford to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
At that point England were set to be relegated. Yet they showed superb reserves of courage and character to pick themselves up and equalise through Manchester United’s Lingard with only 12 minutes remaining.
However 1-1 still meant England were still falling through the trapdoor with only a win saving them.
They duly delivered in front of a delirious Wembley through Kane’s late winner to send them through to the finals in Portugal – an incredible achievement by Southgate and his men.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29