Battling England overcome Croatia

CRUCIAL STRIKE: England’s Harry Kane celebrates scoring their second goal against Croatia in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday. England won 2-1. Reuters

England fought back to qualify for the semifinals of the UEFA Nations League as Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard scored late goals in a pulsating 2-1 victory over Croatia, who were relegated from Group A4 after the defeat at Wembley on Sunday.

England were themselves facing the drop when Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric scored after 57 minutes but substitute Lingard and Kane netted in the 77th and 85th minutes at a vociferous Wembley to turn the group on its head.

Gareth Southgate’s side, who were knocked out in the semifinals of the World Cup by Croatia in July, had dominated for large periods but fell behind when Kramaric twisted and turned before firing in via a deflection off Eric Dier.

Yet Lingard poked home and Kane converted Ben Chilwell’s free-kick to ensure England finished top of a group where all three teams -- including Spain who started the day top but finished second -- could have qualified. England, who progress to the semifinals in Portugal in June, finished with seven points, one ahead of Spain and three clear of Croatia, who were relegated to the second tier.

England made eight changes from the side that beat the United States in a friendly on Thursday with no place in the starting lineup for Lingard, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Callum Wilson.

Croatia, meanwhile, were without influential midfielder Ivan Rakitic, and in his absence the visitors missed a golden opportunity when Ante Rebic fired over with England keeper Jordan Pickford horribly exposed after only two minutes.

As England started to dominate, a fine Kane ball sent Raheem Sterling free, only for the Manchester City winger to shoot directly at Croatia keeper Lovre Kalinic while Kane spooned the resulting corner over the crossbar.

There was a very vocal contingent of Croatia fans in the 78,000-strong crowd, but they were lucky not to see their side concede as Kane was brilliantly denied first by defender Tin Jedvaj and then Kalinic with the visitors struggling to contain England’s pacy attack.

Ross Barkley volleyed into the side netting shortly before halftime, yet after the break it was Kramaric who kept his composure brilliantly before converting Croatia’s first shot on target. England introduced Dele Alli, Jadon Sancho and Lingard after the goal and their energy proved decisive with Lingard, poking home in the 77th minute.

Both sides looked dangerous in a frantic, full-blooded final 15 minutes but with Wembley roaring them on, it was man-of-the-match Kane who was on hand to slide in Chilwell’s free-kick and seal England’s progress. 

Portugal qualify

On Saturday, Portugal became the first team to qualify for the semifinals when they held Italy 0-0 in Milan.

Italy, with defender Giorgio Chiellini making his 100th appearance, suffocated Portugal in the first hour with their pressing and created numerous openings with their intricate passing moves.

But they ran out of steam in the last half hour and the European champions held out fairly comfortably.

Portugal have seven points from three games in the three-team group, two ahead of Italy who have finished their campaign.

Poland, who visit Portugal for the group’s final game on Tuesday, have one point and have already been relegated.

Results: League A: Group 3: Italy: 0 drew with Portugal: 0. League B: Group 2: Turkey: 0 lt to Sweden: 1.

League C: Group 1: Albania: 0 lt to Scotland: 4; Group 4: Serbia: 2 bt Montenegro: 1l Romania: 3 bt Lithuania: 0.

League D: Group 3: Azerbaijan: 2 bt Faroe Islands: 0; Malta: 0 lt to Kosovo: 5

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Battling England overcome Croatia

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