England 2 Croatia 1: reactions as Three Lions reach the Nations League finals
Captain Harry Kane scores late winner against Croatia at Wembley
England 2 Croatia 1
Revenge is a dish best-served cold and so it was for England who on a raw November afternoon pulled off a stunning fightback against Croatia that helped erase to a degree the memories of their defeat in the World Cup semi-final.
Yesterday’s 2-1 win means England finish top of their Nations League pool (ahead of Spain) and qualify for June’s semi-finals along with Portugal, Switzerland and France or Holland.
For Croatia there is the ignominy of relegation to the second tier of a competition that has captured the continent’s imagination in a way the organisers can only have dreamed of when they thought up the format.
No nation has taken to it with more passion than England. Wembley rocked to the sound of Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) at the final whistle, and captain Harry Kane couldn’t contain his delight.
“It’s incredible, I’ve never seen Wembley like this in an England shirt,” he said. “We want to make everyone proud. I know they’ll enjoy this one.”
Kane will enjoy it, too, his man-of-the-match performance including the winning goal and the assist for Jesse Lingard’s effort that cancelled out the deflected strike of Andrej Kramaric early in the second-half.
England’s goals came in the final 12 minutes, and for Kane his sliding toe poke from Ben Chilwell’s free-kick five minutes from time ended a run of 747 minutes without an international goal. He celebrated his 20th goal for his country with the same glee as his first against Lithuania in 2015, a measure of how much it meant to the Tottenham striker.
It was also the release of the pent-up frustration that had been building since the opening minutes of a match that England dominated. But despite their possession, England squandered a series of chances in the opening period and then went behind to Kramaric’s goal on 57 minutes.
Gareth Southgate’s response was to introduce Lingard and Jadon Sancho, and their presence gave a renewed vigour to a tiring Croatia side which looked to be feeling the effects of their late win against Spain on Thursday.
“We were by far the better team in the first half and we came back from a soft goal,” said Southgate. “We were playing against a very, very good side. To keep the ball, use the ball and create chances was very pleasing. And you have to keep calm - when you think the chances have gone then you have to keep believing.”
What they said about the Three Lions’s fightback
England manager Gareth Southgate: “We haven’t sat back after the summer and preened ourselves. We’ve progressed. People can see the style and start to believe in what we’re doing. The biggest thing is the connection with the fans - I haven’t seen the new Wembley like that. The way it feels with the fans is special.”
England midfielder Fabian Delph: “It was an absolutely amazing day. We’ve come a long way in 12 months. We came up short in the World Cup but we wanted to put it right and we’ve done that.”
England forward Jesse Lingard: “We kept the confidence, spirit and togetherness from the World Cup.”
England captain Harry Kane: “We said after the World Cup we want to keep progressing and get better - and the way to do that is by beating top teams. We finished the year strong. We’ll enjoy this one.”
BBC pundit Gary Lineker: “I like this Nations League. I like this England team. I like this England manager. I like our young England players. I like the look of England’s future.”