In a crucial UEFA Nations League decider, England came from a goal down to earn a semi-final spot and sink Croatia to relegation consequently.
A goal from substitute Jesse Lingard drew England level after Andrej Kramaric had opened the scoring for Croatia. Harry Kane met Ben Chilwell’s cross five minutes from time to earn a vital win for the Three Lions.
Fabian Delph retained his place in the starting 11 following his captain’s performance, while Chilwell started at left-back ahead of Luke Shaw, and that move paid dividends as the Foxes defender provided Kane with his 20th international goal, which earned England a summer trip to Portugal to compete in the UEFA Nations League finals.
In a first half full of missed England chances, it was Croatia who had a first sighting of goal, with Ante Rebic firing over the bar after a defensive mix-up following a Delph back-pass to Jordan Pickford.
Raheem Sterling had arguably the best chance for England during the first 45, as Kane turned provider and slid a through ball to the City winger, who was denied by Croat keeper Lovre Kalinic, shining bright in the first half for the visitors.
Kane had enough opportunities alone in the first half, putting an effort over the bar from close range following a flick on from John Stones, while having one cleared off the line before hitting the rebound at Kalinic, proving very frustrating for Gareth Southgate’s side.
A little glimpse of brilliance from Luka Modric saw him loft a ball over the England backline, which should have found its way to Ivan Perisic had he not halted his tracks at the sight of an on-rushing Pickford, meaning the two went into the break at 0-0.
Frantic second half
England saw a lot of the ball in the second half, but it was Zlatko Dalic’s team that went ahead against the run of play. Kramaric found the ball at his feet in the box with his back to goal, before twisting and turning numerous times to free up space and striking towards goal. His effort deflected off Eric Dier and beat the outstretched arms of Pickford to put the hosts in danger of relegation.
England poked and probed but could not break down Croatia’s stern defence, leading to Southgate introducing Jadon Sancho and Lingard to give them something different going forward.
It was one of the substitutes who drew England level, as they went back-to-basics with a Joe Gomez long throw finding its way to Kane who toe-poked it past Kalinic, who got a touch to it but could not stop Lingard tapping home to rejuvenate England’s hopes of a Nations League finals spot.
The action was far from over, as Chilwell swung in a wonderful free-kick across goal and was met by England’s captain, who stuck it in the right corner to seal a memorable comeback at Wembley, netting his 20th international goal in only 35 Three Lions appearances.
The scores remained the same as England ran down the clock and eventually earned a summer showdown in Portugal, where the UEFA Nations League finals will take place, with Portugal already booking their place too, while Switzerland and Belgium will battle it out for a spot, as will Holland when they take on Germany for the fourth position at the tournament.
A spirited England fightback means England top the group, and get a much needed win against Croatia, following the defeat in the World Cup semi-final.
England v Croatia Opta stats
- England have won four of their last five matches (D1), having won just one of their six before that (D1 L4).
- This was Croatia’s first defeat against England since September 2009, when they lost 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
- Harry Kane ended a run of 747 minutes without an England goal, scoring his first goal since his penalty against Colombia at the World Cup; this was his 20th England goal.
- Jesse Lingard’s goal for England was their first goal via a throw-in since May 2014 (Daniel Sturridge v Peru).
- Andrej Kramaric scored with Croatia’s first shot on target of the match.
- Jesse Lingard has scored as many goals in his last two England matches (2) as he managed in his first 20 caps for the Three Lions.
- England have won 15 of their last 16 competitive matches at Wembley (L1).
- This was England’s 17th game in 2018 – their joint-most matches in a calendar year, also playing 17 times in 1966.