London: England manager Gareth Southgate praised his side’s resilience after they scored two goals in the final 12 minutes to beat World Cup semi-final conquerors Croatia 2-1 at Wembley on Sunday and book their place in the last four of the Nations League.
England were facing the prospect of relegation to the second-tier of European football when Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play near the hour mark.
But in a mirror image of their World Cup defeat in Moscow in July, substitute Jesse Lingard equalised before England captain Harry Kane poked home the winner with just five minutes left to give Southgate’s young team the perfect end to an encouraging year.
“I’m very proud first and foremost,” Southgate told Sky Sports. “I thought we dictated a lot of the game and had good chances in the first half.
“Then we let quite a soft goal in and it’s a real test of resilience and patience. We rode our luck with their counter-attacks with one cleared off the line.
“I’m proud of how we’ve done all year. I’ve not heard Wembley like that for a long time.”
England also impressed with the way they went at their opponents in front of the passionate Wembley crowd, creating a host of opportunities against a team that came close to winning the World Cup in Russia.
“It felt as if we could open them up and make good chances,” Southgate explained. “The players are starting to believe in the system. We have some players so comfortable building from the back.
“The depth in the squad since the summer has grown with the young players. Whoever comes in during this competition have all delivered.
“We knew if we had to accelerate, we had game-changers on the bench. In the last five minutes we were mature enough to see things through.”
Kane’s late winner, a fine finish from Ben Chilwell’s teasing low free-kick with five minutes left, was his first since winning the Golden Boot in the summer’s World Cup.
“We were disappointed not to take our chances but against big sides you have to stay calm,” said the Tottenham forward.
“We said after the World Cup we want to keep progressing and get better — and the way to do that is by beating top teams. We finished the year strong. We’ll enjoy this one.”