England hopes to take up the driving seat in their UEFA Nations League Group as Croatia wins Spain at home on Thursday evening.
Croatia avenged the heavy defeat they suffered last time these two sides met and with England still facing the possibility of relegation should the results go against them.
The result also means that England can win the Nations League group if they beat the side who broke their hearts in the World Cup semi-final in Moscow. But they will need to be at their best in Wembley’s winner-takes-all match.
Zlatko Dalic’s players took the lead when a poor attempt to clip a pass out of defence by Sergio Ramos was intercepted by Perisic,
Andrej Kramaric broke the deadlock as Sergio Ramos gave the ball away.
Spain were level within two minutes when smart, one-touch passing move down the Spanish inside left channel culminated in through Dani Ceballos goal.
It was the first time Croatia had played in front of their supporters since the World Cup and they, like England, were saying farewell to servants. Little fanfare Mario Mandzukic, Vedran Corluka and Danijel Subasic were presented to a capacity 3,000 crowd, said their farewells, received framed photographs and were gone.
Croatia: Kalinic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Jedvaj; Rakitic, Brozovic; Perisic, Modric, Rebic; Kramaric.
Subs: Badelj, Bradaric, Brekalo, Kovacic, Letica, Livakovic, Milic, Mitrovic, Pasalic, Pjaca, Rog, Vlasic.
Goals: Kramaric 54, Jedvaj 69, 93
Booked: Rebic, Perisic
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
Spain: De Gea; Sergi Roberto, Inigo Martínez, Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Saúl, Ceballos; Aspas, Rodrigo, Isco.
Subs: Arrizabalaga, Asensio, Azpilicueta, Jonny, Suso, Fornals, Gaya, Hermoso, Rodrigo, Llorente, Lopez, Morata.
Goals: Ceballos 56, Ramos 78 pen
Booked: Busquets, Ceballos
Manager: Luis Enrique.
The beating heart of this summer’s team remains intact though. Luka Modric said before the game that progressing beyond England to the final had left the team ‘empty, physically and emotionally’, explaining the 6-0 defeat to Spain in the earlier fixture. They found some charge this time.
Modric and Ivan Rakitic influenced the game in the old way as Croatia dominated the game’s early stages and twice came close to scoring in the first ten minutes. Rakitic sent a ball down the left six minutes in which Ivan Perisic gathered, cut into the box with to fire a low shot against the base of the left post.
Perisic also laid the ball aside for Ante Rebic to shoot narrowly wide through a crowded area.
Croatia looked the more naturally gifted of the sides; less mechanical than the Spanish who did begin to command long periods of possession towards the end of the first half, without making them count.
Another fine run from Kramaric ended with a blocked shot and a last ditch challenge from Ramos was needed to prevent Perisic finishing too. Then, at the death, the goal that had been threatened all along.
Tin Jedvaj’s cross from the right was sailing out of play until Perisic recovered it and fed substitute Josip Brekalo, who surged through the opposition defence and crossed for Devaj to shoot. De Gea was helpless this time.