Zagreb: Spain passed up the chance to seal progress to the Nations League finals as they were beaten 3-2 by Croatia on Thursday, undone by a 93rd-minute winner from Tin Jedvaj.
The result means the winner of England and Croatia on Sunday will win Group 4, while Spain can still go through if the pool’s final match finishes in a draw at Wembley.
Croatia were deserving winners in Zagreb, where Jedvaj scored twice, his first international goals, to snatch a memorable victory at the end of a pulsating contest.
Andrej Kramaric had put the home side ahead but twice Spain came back, Dani Ceballos’ equaliser and Sergio Ramos’ penalty putting Spain on the cusp of a hard-earned point, before Jedvaj prodded in deep into injury-time.
Croatia will head to London with a spring in their step while Spain are left to ponder back-to-back defeats under their new coach Luis Enrique, following their surprise loss by the same scoreline at home to England last month.
Eight of Croatia’s 11 World Cup finalists started as Jedvaj, Nikola Kalinic and Kramaric replaced Ivan Strinic, Danijel Subasic and Mario Mandzukic, the latter two having retired.
Jordi Alba went straight into Spain’s starting line-up while Athletic Bilbao’s Inigo Martinez played alongside Ramos in central defence, with Nacho out injured, and Isco’s lack of minutes for Real Madrid did not prevent him being picked in a three-man attack.
‘Win or wait in hope’
Diario AS summed up Spain’s position nicely with the headline “Win or wait in hope” on Thursday. For Croatia, there was pride to be restored, after their 6-0 humiliation in Elche in September. “Six reasons to respond”, read the front page of Croatian daily Sportske Novosti.
Croatia dominated the opening half an hour as Ivan Perisic unleashed one shot that struck David de Gea’s near post and then another just wide of the far post, ahead of the lunging Kramaric.
Spain were dictating possession, however, as the half wore on, even if Isco’s long-range shot on the brink of half-time was their only real effort of note.
The game was more balanced, and more open, after the restart as two goals flew in in as many minutes. First, Ramos and Sergi Roberto were pressed into a mistake, the latter’s poor pass allowing Kramaric to sneak in and slot past De Gea.
Spain were more precise at the other end as Iago Aspas played in Isco, who pulled back for Ceballos to bundle in an equaliser.
Aspas should have put Spain ahead but poked onto the bar from close range and, while he was substituted for Alvaro Morata soon after, his team paid the price.
Luka Modric swung in a sumptuous cross to the back post where Jedvaj headed in his first international goal.
Marcelo Brozovic should have put Croatia out of sight but spurned a one-on-one, his shot grazing De Gea on its way wide. This time Spain made them pay.
Sime Vrsaljko hacked Morata’s header off the line before giving away a penalty, lowering his arm to meet a cross that was probably on its way behind for a goalkick. Ramos made no mistake from the spot.
Kramaric could have scored a late winner on the break but instead the decisive moment came three minutes into injury time.
Croatia kept the ball alive at the back post before Josip Brekalo fired at goal. De Gea could only push the shot to his left where Jedvaj applied the finish to seal a dramatic victory.
Elsewhere in League A on Thursday, Michy Batshuayi scored a double in Brussels as Belgium saw off Iceland 2-0 to ensure that they will only need a point from Sunday’s game in Switzerland to reach the finals.