ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia kept alive their hopes of reaching the Nations League finals after a stoppage-time winner by left back Tin Jedvaj gave them a 3-2 win over Spain in an electrifying Group 4 clash on Thursday.
Spain stayed top of the group with six points from four games but their fate is no longer in their own hands as England and Croatia, who have four each from three matches, clash at Wembley on Sunday.
The winners would finish top and reach the 2019 final four while only a draw would see the Spaniards retain top spot.
Victory avenged Croatia’s 6-0 drubbing by Spain in the reverse fixture and their coach Zlatko Dalic feels confident his World Cup runners-up can win the group.
“We have to enjoy it and give it our best shot as I am sure we have it in us to beat England,” he told Croatian media.
“It was a great match. Five goals, a rollercoaster and in the end we deserved to win. The lads went all out for a win, they all went forward in the dying minutes and the gamble paid off handsomely.
“The best of this new-look team is yet to come,” said Dalic, who oversaw Croatia’s 2-1 World Cup semi-final win over England in July.
Jedvaj emerged as Croatia’s hero with his first two international goals, sending the home crowd into raptures with his second after Spain had twice come from behind.
Striker Andrej Kramaric fired the hosts ahead in the 56th minute, only for Dani Ceballos to equalise with his first goal for Spain barely two minutes later.
Jedvaj restored Croatia’s advantage with a close-range header before Sergio Ramos converted a penalty to bring Spain level again 12 minutes from time.
Croatia started fast and missed two good chances while Isco went close for Spain with a fierce shot.
Spain fell behind after a calamitous error by Sergi Roberto, who gave the ball away to Ivan Perisic and the winger released Kramaric to beat David de Gea with a crisp finish from eight metres.
Croatia’s joy was short-lived as Ceballos swept the ball home from six metres after good work by Isco and Iago Aspas.
Jedvaj, playing in an unfamiliar position as he is normally deployed on the opposite flank, made it 2-1 with a far-post header after an inch-perfect cross by Luka Modric.
Spain equalised after Sime Vrsaljko twice handled the ball and Ramos sent goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic the wrong way from the spot.
Croatia forced the final twist when De Gea could only parry substitute Josip Brekalo’s low shot and Jedvaj popped up again to hammer in the rebound.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ed Osmond)