England Under-21s secured their place in next summer’s Euro Finals after seeing off Croatia in Vinkovci with a 2-1 victory.
Gareth Southgate’s side were deserved winners of this tie, prevailing 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight of this competition for the fifth successive campaign.
Croatia 1-2 England
(England win 4-2 on aggregate)
European U21s Championship
Stadion HNK Cibalia, Vinkovci
Tuesday 14 October 2014
It was a professional and impressive performance from the Three Lions to take their spot in Czech Republic next June as goals from Liam Moore and Will Hughes proved enough to break Croatian hearts in their homeland.
After their 2-1 victory in the first leg at Molineux last Friday, England knew they would face a fiery atmosphere and determined side in the second game.
But they played with intelligence and control throughout to stifle their hosts, withstand the pressure and then kill them off with two well-taken goals in either half.
Croatia 1-2 England: Match highights
It could have been a much more uncomfortable start though, as captain Jack Butland stunned Croatia with a wonder save after just two minutes.
When a stray cross from the right was miscued by dangerman Marko Livaja, the ball dropped to Mario Pasalic in the six-yard box, but Butland somehow got down to his shot to turn it over the bar from low down to his left.
It truly was a stunning save and it gave the Three Lions a platform to take the lead in the ninth minute when the impressive Hughes won a corner down the right.
Tom Carroll swung the ball in and Moore arrived with perfect timing to volley home from eight yards out to give England a dream start with his first goal for the Three Lions.
Southgate’s side were now playing with confidence, enjoying good spells of possession and posing problems for the hosts through Harry Kane’s strength up front and the movement and support of Hughes, Saido Berahino and Nathan Redmond around him.
But the warning signs were still there, with Livaja’s poor finish straight at Butland proving a let-off for England after they were caught out in the final third.
Croatia drew level in the 38th minute when Livaja showed his strength to win a challenge against Moore from a long ball from Filip Bradaric.
The ball dropped nicely for him and the Rubin Kazan striker slipped the ball under Butland to bring the crowd to life.
Croatia emerged for the second half with renewed vigour and started asking more and more questions of the English back-line, but both Mario Pasalic and Marko Pjaca were wasteful with shots well over and wide respectively in the early stages.
England began to find their feet again though with Hughes proving to be the conductor-in-chief, as his lifted pass into the area found Kane. The Spurs man’s shot went just over the bar though.
Berahino then came close, smashing an angled drive against the outside of the post following a disguised pass from Carroll into the box.
And the breakthrough arrived in the 73rd minute when Kane did well to control a long ball, before moving it on to Hughes. He steadied himself, before firing a low shot across the turf and past Livakovic into the bottom corner.
That finally silenced the crowd, as England expertly played the game out from there with full control and the resilience that has been a mainstay throughout their qualifying campaign.
They now have chance to test themselves against Europe’s best next summer when the Finals take place in Czech Republic.
Croatia Under-21s (4-3-3): 12 Dominik Livakovic; 13 Mato Milos, , 5 Niko Datkovic (c ), 6 Matej Mitrovic; 3 Antonio Milic; 7 Marko Pjaca 4 Filip Bradaric, 10 Mario Pasalic; 11 Ante Rebic,14 Marko Livaja, 21 Alen Haililovic.
Substitutes: 17 Drazan Bagaric for Rebic 33, 16 Mijo Caktas for Pasalic 68, 20 Petar Misic for Haililovic 80.
Substitutes not used: 1 Matej Delac, 8 Nino Galovic, 9 Stipe Perica,19 Karlo Brucic.
Head coach: Nenad Gracan.
Goals: Marko Livaja 38.
England Under-21s (4-3-3): 1 Jack Butland (c) (Stoke City); 2 Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), 6 Liam Moore (Leicester City), 5 Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), 3 Luke Shaw (Manchester United); 4 Will Hughes (Derby County), 10 Tom Carroll (Swansea City, loan from Tottenham Hotspur), 8 Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton& Hove Albion); 11 Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), 7 Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion).
Substitutes: Thomas Ince (Hull City) for Redmond 85.
Substitutes not used: Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest, loan from Newcastle United), Luke Garbutt (Everton), 13 Jonathan Bond (Watford), Cauley Woodrow (Fulham), Alex Pritchard (Brentford, loan from Tottenham Hotspur).
Head coach: Gareth Southgate.
Goals: Liam Moore 9, Will Hughes 73.
Cautions: Will Hughes 56.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).
Assistant referees: Frederic Cano & Nicolas Danos (France).
Fourth official: Nicolas Rainville (France).