England fight back, Croatian harakiri

England won group 4 in league A of UEFA Nations League and qualified new competition’s for semi-finals. Other finalist is Portugal with a hard-fought draw in Italy last night.

Come-from-behind win against tired Croatia at Wembley earned England’s national team progression to next year’s finals.

Do or die

After a last-gasp victory against sloppy Spain on Thursday night, Croatia came to Wembley to fight for promotion. Or at least avoid relegation. How is that possible in a single match? Well, the new competition European governing body came up with offers all-in-one.

Group standing before the match had Spain up top with 6 points, England and Croatia leveled in second with 4.

England vs Croatia

Spaniards had already played all 4 games and their future participation in the competition depended on tonight’s result.

A goalless draw sends Spain in the final four and Croatia to league B. Draw with goals doesn’t influence the group winner but means relegation for The Three Lions.

Tonight’s winner qualifies for the final tournament meanwhile the loser goes down. Only thing sure before the match was that Spain can’t be relegated.

Bright England start

It was a little miracle that the match was still at 0-0 at half time.

Sterling and Kane had clear-cut chances within the first 10 minutes that simply cannot be wasted at this level. As if it wasn’t enough, each of them missed another opportunity just a few minutes later.

Another dangerous situation in front of the visiting goal was solved by Vrsaljko with a last-ditch tackle that prevented Rashford to find himself all alone in front of the keeper.

After another semi-cleared corner kick Chilwell fired cheekily from the edge of the area but Kalinić was up to it. It was 25th minute and the hosts already had opposition’s goalie working extra hours.

Croatian trouble

Croatia trouble

Already facing rampant England less than 72 hours after victorious but ultimately exhausting battle against Spain without Rakitič, Croatia’s hit by another blow. Vrsaljko had to be substituted in the 26th minute and young and inexperienced Milić took his place.

The Balkan side somehow restored balance in the middle of the park and threatened with a few dangerous situations. No limpid chances but a proof of life. Because they need a goal not to relegate. Even if they don’t win.

In the 40th minute another thrill went down visiting fans when goalkeeper missed a cross and the ball fell to Barkley’s right foot. The volley was powerful but missed the target. Big relief for Dalić’s men and another chance blew for Southgate’s troops.

England trouble

England trouble

Second half had a similar scenario. Fresher England in search of progression goal and fatigued Croatia hanging on and waiting for counter attack opportunity.

Some interesting situations spurned by the home side led to inevitable visitors lead. As it often happens, if you don’t score you’re going to pay for it eventually and Croatia duly took advantage of English wastefulness.

Kramarić received a pass deep into England’s area. 3 defenders closed him down and forced him away from goal but couldn’t get the ball off him. However in the end ex-Leicester City attacker managed to get a shot deflected past Pickford.

Visitors ahead and on their way to the final four! Still over 30 minutes left to play but Croatia got the all-important goal that puts them in a commanding position.

New game

The goal not only had Croatia qualified to the finals but also had England relegated to league B! Additionally, one goal doesn’t change that! England needs to win to avoid going a level down.

Croatia goal

Attacks intensify, Dele Alli replaces booked Barkley to add some weight and height in attack but it doesn’t help.

Chances hardly come by and Southgate decides to go all in with Lingard taking Delph’s place and young Sancho, next footballing big thing, replaces Rashford.

Before gambling comes to fruition one more scare needs to go by. Croatian counter-attack brings Brozović in a dangerous position however no shot on goal is fired. A situation visitor’s will live to regret.

Lingard to the rescue

Just 2 minutes after the blown opportunity England equalizes. Joe Gomez’s throw-in flew in the heart of the area and after a scramble arrives to Harry Kane. The England captain, one of the best nr. 9 in the world, was left all alone on the far post.

Kane squeezed the ball under the onrushing keeper and Lingard tap it in from point blank. 1:1! But this goal was for Spain. England still slide into league B due to worse goal-difference with Croatia and Spain wins the group.

England goal

World’s vice-champions reacted immediately and had a great chance after a corner. Vida out-jumped the English defence and heads on goal. Pickford is just short to get his hand on the ball but the providential Lingard is there to save the day.

After scoring the crucial equalizer, now he clears a certain goal from the goal-line. How about that as contribution as a substitute!

Chance missed – goal conceded

This match was a typical example of this unwritten rule. Both teams had been on the proverb’s painful end.

Lingard’s clearance would stand for nothing if England didn’t score one more time. Who would be a fitter hero than the captain?

85th minute, free kick for England on the left-hand side. Chilwell whips in a low cross which doesn’t find obstacles on its way to the far post. Harry Kane, completely unmarked some 6 meters from goal, slides in and sends the ball into the bottom corner to the delight of the 90.000 fans present at Wembley.

England 2_1

Well, 90.000 minus the 3.000 visiting supporters.

Croatian media ridiculed Spanish defence for leaving Jedvaj, right-back unknown to wider footballing public, alone to score 2 goals.

I wonder what will be said of their own defence after today’s performance.

After all the humiliation (Elche, anyone?), tight schedule (less than 72 hours between games) and personnel issues (no Rakitić, Vrsaljko, left-back,…) blowing everything so easily (best striker in the world left unmarked at set-piece, twice) has to be hard to swallow for Dalić and the whole nation.

Other finalists

Portugal somehow managed to keep a clean sheet in Milan last night and thus won the group 3 with a game to spare.

Italy, a side in transition and in search of itself, kept the European champions under check the whole match however couldn’t find a way past Rui Patricio. Mostly thanks to a toothless attack.

Last round match between Portugal and Poland won’t have any impact on final standings; the former will take part in the final four and the latter will be relegated to group B.

Petković happy

Somewhat surprise winner of group 2 is Switzerland! Before the last game in Swissporarena, Luzern, Belgium had a perfect score. Even a draw would see them win the group and progress to the finals. Moreover, within 17 minutes they were already 2 goals up thanks to Hazard. Not Chelsea superstar Eden, but his brother, Thorgan!

But it wasn’t enough! The Swiss turned the game around even before half time thanks to Rodriguez and double strike from Seferović.

Even this result would leave Belgium top of the standings. However, it just wasn’t meant to be. Nico Elvedi and Seferović again scored to put the game beyond doubt. Historical come-back for the small yet great country i hte middle of the Alp’s.   

Group 1 winner will be decided when already relegated Germany will face Holland. France is leading the group but if the resurrecting Dutch manage to remain unbeaten in the last game, they will progress due to better head-to-head record against world champions.

UEFA trophy

Scepticism surrounding UEFA Nations League after today’s constant over-turns and emotional roller-coaster must be brought to an end. When playing for a trophy, even if it’s a completely new one, always brings the best out of the teams. Who wouldn’t want to be the first in history to lift a cup?