England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

England's players celebrate their side's second goal during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between England and Croatia at Wembley stadium in London. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2018

England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

  • Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from manager Southgate
  • England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead

LONDON: Harry Kane fired England into the Nations League semifinals as Gareth Southgate’s side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over Croatia on Sunday.
England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play in the second half at Wembley.
But Southgate’s vibrant young side pulled off a stirring escape act in the closing stages to gain a measure of revenge for their World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia earlier this year.
Jesse Lingard came off the bench to poach England’s equalizer and captain Kane was on hand to turn in the winner with five minutes left.
England’s fightback took them to the top of Group A4, above Spain and relegated Croatia, and they can look forward to playing in the last four in June next year.
It was a cathartic moment for England, who have made a habit of suffering painful defeats against Croatia, with this year’s World Cup woe following the 2007 loss that cost them a place at Euro 2008.
More importantly, the performance provided further tangible proof that Southgate is building a team capable of challenging for the major prizes after years of under-achievement.
England’s appearance in the semifinals of the Nations League, which are set to be held in Portugal next June, offers another chance to reach their first major final since 1966.
Following the 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville last month, this tournament has been a serious statement of intent from Southgate’s team and they will go into 2019 with great expectations.
From start to finish, England were the dominant force, although they were fortunate to escape when Ante Rebic shot over after Jordan Pickford fumbled Fabian Delph’s backpass.
Kane slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City winger’s blistering pace sent him clear of the Croatia defense.
With only Lovre Kalinic to beat, Sterling let Croatia off the hook as he directed a hesitant shot straight at the keeper.
England kept probing intelligently, with the speed of Sterling and Marcus Rashford providing their main threat.
Delph’s pass sparked a frantic sequence, forcing Kalinic to dash out of his area to head away from Sterling.
When Kalinic’s clearance fell to Kane, the England captain’s effort was headed off the line by Tin Jedvaj.
The rebound fell to Kane, but Kalinic, by now back in his goal, used his legs to foil the Tottenham striker with a last-ditch save.
It was more of the same at the start of the second half, but once again England couldn’t find the killer touch.
That profligacy looked as though it would prove fatal when Croatia snatched the lead after 56 minutes.
Kramaric was allowed time and space to turn in the area and the Hoffenheim forward took full advantage, clipping a shot that deflected off Eric Dier and looped over Pickford’s despairing dive.
Southgate responded by sending on Lingard and the change reaped an instant reward as England equalized in the 78th minute.
Joe Gomez’s long throw was flicked on by John Stones and Kane prodded past Kalinic, leaving Lingard with the simple task of tapping in from virtually on the goal-line.
England’s deserved winner arrived in the 85th minute.
Ben Chilwell curled over a teasing low free-kick and Kane timed his run to perfection, guiding his shot past Kalinic from close-range.
Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from Southgate, who leapt into the air as he punched the air on the touchline.
Kane had joked with his fiancee this week that he would cry if England ever win a trophy, but he couldn’t guarantee he would weep when they get married.
Thanks to their thrilling comeback, England could bring a tear to Kane’s eyes in the Finals next year.


Revamped Barcelona start new season with spotlight on Messi

Updated 24 September 2020

Revamped Barcelona start new season with spotlight on Messi

MADRID: Lionel Messi will be there when Barcelona start their season on Sunday, just as he has been for the last two decades.

His every move, however, will be scrutinized like never before.

After all, never before had Messi told the club that he wanted to leave, and never before had Messi been forced to stay.

Will Messi still give his best? Will he still be motivated? Will the transfer saga affect him?

Some of those questions may start being answered on Sunday when Barcelona open their Spanish league season against Villarreal at the Camp Nou. It will be the club’s league debut after the first two matches were postponed because of their  participation in the Champions League late last season.

The team’s last official match was the embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals in August, one of the worst defeats in the club’s history and in Messi’s career. The result thrust Barcelona into one of their worst crises ever, and led Messi to make public his desire to leave.

The Argentina great eventually backtracked after Barcelona denied his request to leave for free. He said he didn’t want to get into a legal dispute with the “club of his life.” But Messi made it more than clear that he would have rather left, and openly criticized club president Josep Bartomeu for not keeping his promise to let him go.

Still, Messi said he would give his best despite having wanted to leave, and there were no signs of any letdown in the preparation matches in which he played ahead of what should be his final season with the club.

“For a moment I thought he wouldn’t stay with us,” Barcelona teammate Sergi Roberto said. “He’s our captain, the best player this club has ever had and the best player in the history of soccer. I couldn’t imagine Barça without Leo. It’s normal that he may have wanted a different experience, but he has given it all for this club throughout the years. He has been motivated since he came to the first team. He is very professional.”

Messi stayed but Barcelona will have a new coach as part of the profound changes announced by the club following the loss to Bayern. Ronald Koeman arrived to replace Quique Setien, and it didn’t take long before the Dutch coach said he wanted to revamp the squad. Barcelona will start the season without some of their key players from recent years, including Ivan Rakitic, who rejoined Sevilla, and Luis Suarez, who joined rival Atletico Madrid.

Also new for Barcelona is the fact that they will be coming off a trophy-less season for the first time since 2007-08. The team finished five points behind Real Madrid in the league last season despite having the lead when the competition was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic with 11 matches remaining.

 

Madrid vs. Pellegrini

Defending champion Real Madrid have a difficult second match on Saturday against Real Betis, which have won two in a row to start the season under veteran Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, a former Madrid coach.

Madrid struggled in attack in its opening 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad last Sunday, when Eden Hazard still wasn’t available. It remains unlikely that Hazard will be fit to face Betis at the Benito Villamarín Stadium.

 

Suarez’s Atletico

Atletico will make their Spanish league debut on Sunday against Granada at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but it’s unclear if Suarez will be ready to play after joining from Barcelona.

Diego Costa was set to be in the attack after Alvaro Morata joined Juventus to open space for Suarez.

Like Atletico and Barcelona, Sevilla also had their first two matches postponed because of European competition after winning the Europa League in August. And their  opener on Sunday at promoted Cadiz will come only three days after they play  Bayern Munich in the the Super Cup.