Gareth Southgate’s youngsters head into next week’s second leg in Vinkovci with a one-goal advantage thanks to a late penalty scored by the West Brom strikerEngland U21 vs Croatia U21 highlights.
But England came out more aggressively in the second half and were rewarded for their efforts on 58 minutes when Tottenham striker Harry Kane linked up well with Saido Berahino to head his side back into the game.
Berahino then converted himself from the penalty spot in the dying moments after being brought down by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to give Gareth Southgate’s men a vital win.
England found themselves with the vast majority of possession in a game that saw Croatia content to sit back and absorb pressure before breaking away on swift counter-attacks.
But it was the visitors who broke the deadlock after poor defending from England, when a dangerous corner whipped towards the back post found its way to Livaja, who had the simple task of nodding the ball into the net.
Southgate’s men were on the front foot for the rest of the first half but, despite great link-up play by the impressive trio of Will Hughes, Berahino and Kane, they were unable to find a way through a strong and well-organised Croatia back four.
Goalkeeper Livakovic was in inspired form during the first half, pulling off save after save to deny England an equaliser. His acrobatic save from Nathan Redmond’s long-range shot was the pick of the bunch, diving to his top left-hand corner in a flash to tip the Norwich City midfielder’s thumping effort over the crossbar with his fingertips.
England, however, returned after the interval with greater purpose and pace in attack and Croatia’s defence, which had remained solid during the opening 45 minutes, began to creak.
The visitors’ resolve was finally broken 13 minutes into the half when Kane met a great cross from Berahino with a diving header at the near post.
From then on England were in completely control, despite the best efforts of the Croatia defence and Livakovic, who continued to deny the Berahino and Kane with a plethora of fine saves.
But just as it began to look as if England would have to settle for a draw, disaster struck for the 19-year-old goalkeeper.
He rushed out and dived at the feet of Berahino in an attempt to win the ball, only to trip the striker and gift England a perfect opportunity to steal the victory with just five minutes left to play.
Berahino dusted himself off, stepped up and did just that, sending the resulting penalty under the body of Livakovic and into the net to ensure his side will bring a narrow lead into next week’s clash in Vinkovci.Follow @Football7x24