Zagreb, Nov 16: Croatia battled to the final whistle and prevailed with a 3-2 over Spain to stay alive in the UEFA Nations League.
Spain, with six points from four matches, retain the lead in League A Group 4, while Croatia go level on points with England at 4 after three matches, though the Three Lions have the advantage on goal difference, reports Efe news.
After beating England in the opener in London and routing Croatia at home, Spain looked set to cruise into the final stage until they lost 2-3 to the Three Lions in Seville last month.
That was the backdrop for La Roja’s visit to Zagreb to face the 2018 World Cup runners-up, anxious to dispel the memory of their abysmal performance two months ago in Spain.
The hosts, physical on defence and direct on the attack on Thursday, largely dictated the flow of play until the final seconds of the first half, when Spain’s Saul Ñiguez and Isco Alarcon threatened the Croatia goal.
With the score 0-0 and both teams needing a win, the 36,000 spectators at Maksimir stadium were treated to a second-half offensive display involving some of the most talented players in the game.
Just as Spain seemed to be getting the upper hand, a giveaway by Sergi Roberto left Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric alone in front of goal and he beat keeper David de Gea to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 54th minute.
Spain reacted furiously and the equalizer was not long in coming. Iago Aspas sent a deft pass to Isco behind the Croatia defence and the forward relayed the ball to midfielder Dani Ceballos for an easy goal in the 56th.
The visitors stepped up the pace and would have taken the lead if Aspas hadn’t hit the cross-bar with a strike from close range.
Instead, the next goal went to Croatia thanks to a rare mistake by De Gea, who had a chance to grab the ball before Tin Jedvaj headed-in after a corner to make it 2-1 for the home side with 20 minutes left.
But a blunder at the other end in the 78th minute let Spain get back into the game, as Sergio Ramos converted from the spot after a hand ball by defender Sime Vrsaljko.
The final stretch was all Croatia and Jedvaj completed the brace with a goal in the 93rd minute.
With the outcome, Spain, who have played all four of their matches, need Croatia and England to draw at Wembley next Sunday to be assured of advancing directly to the final stage.