With a goal and an assist, England captain Harry Kane led the England National Team to a second half comeback in a 2-1 win over Croatia on Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium.
By winning, England advanced to the UEFA Nations League finals, where they’ll meet the other group winners from League A. England finished with seven points in League A Group 4. Spain had six points while Croatia, which could have topped the group, finished with four points and will be relegated to League B.
England had the lion’s share of chances in a nearly must-win game, with only a scoreless draw keeping England alive and staving off relegation. But Croatia looked put one foot in the UEFA Nations League finals when former Leicester City forward Andrej Kramarić scored in the 57th minute. Croatia’s stalwart defense frustrated England but a pair of substitutions changed the pace and tempo of the game.
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Jesse Lingard, moments after coming on, slid home a shot that was saved off the line by Dejan Lovren, tieing the score in the 78th minute and giving England real hope of securing a victory. The game-winning-goal came eight minutes later, as Kane stabbed home a goal off a free kick from left back Ben Chillwell. Jadon Sancho, another substitute, played a role late in pushing England forward down the right flank.
After just a few minutes of action, it looked as if England wound run away as easy winners, with Kane and Raheem Sterling linking together beautifully to get behind Croatia’s defense. But both Sterling and Kane were wasteful with their chances, and by the end of the first half, Croatia’s Ivan Peresic nearly gave England a shock with a decent chance to score.
Croatia, buoyed by its defensive display in the first half, came out with more energy in the second, eventually catching England on the counter as Kramaric scored off a deflection, the ball looping over England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. As things stood, England would be relegated while Croatia would continue their incredible 2018 calendar year.
England looked to get back into the game, but the pace and tempo was missing until coach Gareth Southgate brought on Sancho and Lingard in place of Fabian Delph and Marcus Rashford, who was lively down the left but limped off the field. It was Lingard who’d get the game-tying goal in dramatic fashion, slipping a ball across the line after a shot from Kane had been saved on the goalline.
The Three Lions continued to push and finally were rewarded with Kane’s winner in the 85th minute, holding on to secure the victory.
The game showcased all that was hoped for when UEFA came up with the Nations League concept, turning boring, friendly matches into exciting, meaningful tournament games. The experience gained by England’s players could be crucial as the side looks to prove it was no one-hit wonder from the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia may have to find some quicker defenders to deal with teams such as England, with speedy young attackers.
If this is how the Nations League continues to be in the future, then the more the merrier.