England 2-1 Croatia: 3 Lions exorcise World Cup demons with Nations League win over Croatia (PHOTOS)
The Three Lions were forced to come from behind in London as Andrej Kramaric fired the away side ahead early in the second half when he found the goal with a deflected shot. England showed their famous grit to claw their way back through two goals from Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane late on to win their Group 4 and go through to next summer's finals.
In a crunch match between the two World Cup rivals, both sides needed a win to secure progression form their UEFA Nations League Group 4 to the finals, held in Portugal next year.
The recent history between the two began last summer in Russia, when Croatia confirmed football wasn’t ‘coming home’ at the World Cup, defeating a plucky Three Lions side 2-1 in a come-from-behind extra-time victory to reach their first ever final, where they lost 4-2 to France at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The first half finished 0-0 despite some excellent chances for the home side, including Harry Kane spurning a double chance with the first of those in front of an open goal from far out. That goalless draw at the break would have meant Croatia would be relegated with Spain going through from Group 4.
In the second half, it was Croatia who seized the initiative and finding a breakthrough after 57 minutes. A reverse pass from CSKA Moscow forward Nikola Vlasic left Andrej Kramaric with plenty to do in the England area.
The forward, who shined brightly as one of Croatia’s cult heroes in Russia, showed clever footwork inside the box, producing a cluster of stepovers that had England’s back four scrambling before finally unleashing a shot that deflected over keeper Jordan Pickford and into the net to score a goal that would have seen England relegated and Croatia through as champions.
But England showed their grit, and on 77 minutes, a long throw found its way through to Harry Kane who attempted to poke the ball home, which ricocheted off the keeper to an awaiting Jesse Lingard to side foot home from just inches out. Game on.
The England players, barely allowing themselves time to celebrate knowing a score draw would also see them eliminated, raced back to the center circle to try and find a second crucial goal.
And they found it just over five minutes from time, when a low set piece from Chilwell on the left bypassed all in the area. That was, except for talisman Kane who stretched every sinew of his 6ft 3in frame to right his previous wrong and poke home into Lovre Kalinic's net.
England hung on for the win, and go through as champions with Croatia relegated and having bagged a result that goes some way to easing the memories of that World Cup woe.