England scored two goals in the final 12 minutes to beat Croatia 2-1 and book their place in the Nations League Finals.
The Three Lions were heading for defeat when Andrej Kramaric’s deflected effort put the visitors ahead at Wembley before goals from Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane won the game.
Here, Press Association Sport discusses five talking points from the game.
We’re off to the Finals
Victory means that England book their place in next summer’s Nations League Finals – set to be staged in Portugal – when they will go up against the three other League A group winners for glory. But Group 4 was so close that the Three Lions were five minutes away from not only missing out on a Finals berth, but also being relegated from the top tier when the tournament comes around again. Instead it is Croatia that will drop down while Spain, who finished second, stay at this level.
Nations League success
It will be easy for England to say now they are through to the Finals, but even if they had been relegated, this Wembley encounter proved that the Nations League works as a concept. There was something riding on the scoreline and as a result it brought drama and feeling that a bog-standard international friendly could not. Celebrations did not quite match the chaos seen saw during this summer’s World Cup, but noise levels when Kane scored the decider proved that the fans cared about winning. It also further strengthened the bond between the players and the fans, as there is nothing quite like a late winner.
Redemption for the Three Lions
England’s recent history against Croatia has not produced too many happy memories over the past decade or so. There was Theo Walcott’s hat-trick and a five-star showing in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but that was good as it got for them. No one needs reminding what happened in Moscow in the summer as Croatia denied the Three Lions a place in the World Cup final with their extra-time semi-final victory, and who can forget that sodden night at Wembley in 2007 when Slaven Bilic’s side won 3-2 to deny England a place in Euro 2008. It looked like being more of the same on Sunday as England trailed until the 78th minute and were heading out, until the late turnaround went some way to healing some of the pain from just a few months ago.
It was harder than it should have been
England only needed to look back to that World Cup heartbreak to see how costly missing first-half chances against Croatia can be. But they did not seem to learn as they wasted the opportunity to have the game sewn up by half-time. Kane missed two golden chances, Raheem Sterling spurned a one-on-one, Marcus Rashford should have done better, while Ross Barkley found the side-netting from a good position. And a similar story unfolded as, despite some early second-half pressure, England were made to pay as Andrej Kramaric put Croatia into the lead just before the hour-mark and it completely changed the game. Instead, England had to do it the hard way, scoring two late goals to progress.
Delphing into new territory
Fresh from captaining the side against the United States on Thursday, Delph was selected ahead of Jordan Henderson and justified his place in the side with his best display in an England shirt. Positioned on the left of a midfield three, he played a vital role in snuffing out the danger of the Croatian midfield, which overran England so much in the World Cup semi-final, and was one of the Three Lions’ most creative forces in the first half. He did not have as much impact in the second half and made way for Jesse Lingard as England chased the game, but he gave Gareth Southgate plenty to think about.