Football news - Dramatic late strike from Domagoj Bradaric sends Croatia through at England expense
UEFA European U21 Championships Group D, SRC Bonifika - Croatia 1 England 2 (Eze P 12', Jones 74')
Domagoj Bradaric of Croatia celebrates with Nikola Moro, Petar Musa, Bartol Franjic, Lovro Majer and Mihael Zaper after scoring their side's first goal during the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group D match between Croatia and England at Stadi
Published 31/03/2021 at 15:04 GMT | Updated 31/03/2021 at 18:23 GMT
England conceded a goal in stoppage-time to crash out of the Under 21 European Championships at the group stages despite beating Croatia 2-1 on a dramatic night in Koper.
After suffering back-to-back defeats in Group D, the Young Lions knew they needed to win by at least two clear goals and hope that Portugal defeated Switzerland in the other group game played simultaneously.
With Portugal easing to a 3-0 victory, everything was going to plan after Eberechi Eze's penalty and Curtis Jones' superb strike looked set to send Aidy Boothroyd's side into the quarter-finals.
However their hearts were broken when, in the first minute of added-time, Domagoj Bradaric stepped up and smashed the ball into the top corner and sent Croatia through on goal difference.
: Eberechi Eze of England celebrates after scoring their team's first goal from the penalty spot during the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group D match between Croatia and England at Stadion Bonifika on March 31, 2021 in Koper, Slovenia
Image credit: Getty Images
Having failed to register a shot on target from open play in the tournament, England started with a much higher tempo, and finally playing with urgency, won a dubious penalty when Eddie Nketiah went down under contact from Bartol Franjic. Eze confidently stroked home from the spot-kick in the 12th-minute.
England, however, required the excellence of Aaron Ramsdale to take a one-goal lead into the break, with the Sheffield United goalkeeper denying Luka Ivanusec from point-blank range after Japhet Tanganga gave the ball up cheaply, just moments before Dario Spikic spurned a glorious chance.
After the restart, Nketiah was presented with a great opportunity but failed to test goalkeeper Dominik Kotarski. Dwight McNeil was denied by the woodwork with a well-taken free-kick as England upped the ante in search of a second.
Their moment finally came in the 74th-minute when Jones, on his first start of the tournament, doubled the advantage with a sweet strike.
With nerves jangling, however, England paid the ultimate price for allowing Bradaric too much space and he punished them with a sensational shot into the top corner.
TALKING POINT - Too little, too late for England and Boothroyd
What a roller coaster that was. A much, much improved performance from England who were energised and fluid on the ball. Ultimately, however, it will count for nothing.
Unfortunately for Boothroyd, this impressive showing comes just too late in the group stages. The England boss went for the jugular, making seven changes from the dismal defeat to Portugal, and his attacking approach was rewarded with the best display the Under 21 side has produced in some time. Sadly it wasn't enough - the damage had already been done, as the Young Lions crash out at the group stages of this competition for the second time in two years.
England Under-21 head coach Aidy Boothroyd
Image credit: Getty Images
Eze and Jones were handed a starting place and were easily England's best players on the night. It begs the question why they didn't start in the opening two games.
Boothroyd's contract is due to expire in the summer and this was almost certainly his final game in charge of the Under 21s. He may well end his tenure with victory, but there's no getting away from the fact he has been unsuccessful with a talented group of players.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Eberechi Eze (England)
The Crystal Palace midfielder showed Boothroyd what he had been missing with a classy, composed display. Everything positive from England moved through him.
11' - Penalty to England! Nketiah is brought down by Franjic inside the box and is booked for doing so, as the referee points to the spot. It's a really soft one, but England won't care!
12' - GOAL! Croatia 0-1 England (Ebere Eze, pen): Up steps Eze and he tucks it home confidently, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. England are ahead on a massive night!
31' - Croatia miss a sitter! Oh my, what a chance! Ivanusec beats Aaron and gets his cross in - England's defenders are ball watching - Spikic is left unmarked but blazes his first-time shot well over the bar from point-blank range. A huge let-off for England!
37' - Croatia should score! They're really banging on the door here. England are the makers of their own undoing as they give the ball away while trying to play out of defence. Ivanusec steals in to intercept Tanganga's pass, he's just the goalkeeper to beat but Ramsdale makes himself big to deny Croatia an equaliser!
55' - England chance! Nketiah should do much better! The high press is effective as England win the ball in a dangerous area. Eze's beautifully-weighted pass releases Nketiah, but he fails to generate any power in his shot and Kortarski makes a comfortable save without having to move.
63' - England hit the post! Agonising! McNeil whips his free-kick around the wall and is denied only by the woodwork.
74' - GOAL! Croatia 0-2 England (Curtis Jones): That's the goal they needed! England, as it stands, are going through to the quarter-finals! Brewster is immediately involved, lifting a cross into the middle. McNeil takes it down and tees up Jones, who, on his first start of the tournament, smashes the ball into the corner!
90'+ 1 - GOAL! Croatia 1-2 England (Domagoj Bradaric): Heartbreak for England! Boothroyd's men pay the ultimate price for allowing Bradaric too much space to have a shot from distance. And what a fine strike it is, straight into the top corner, leaving Ramsdale with no chance. England, as it stands, are going out.