'12th man' spurs Croatia to sweet revenge over Spain

Tin Jedvaj is joined by teammates after scoring the winner in Croatia's 3-2 victory over Spain. Jedvaj's brace was his first international goals.
Tin Jedvaj is joined by teammates after scoring the winner in Croatia's 3-2 victory over Spain. Jedvaj's brace was his first international goals.PHOTO: REUTERS

ZAGREB • With Croatia unbeaten at their Maksimir Stadium home ground since October 2013, there was never going to be a repeat of the "Can we play you every week" chants after their 6-0 humiliation in the reverse fixture in September.

The World Cup finalists had also been forced to play their last two home matches behind closed doors as part of their punishment by Uefa after a swastika was marked on the pitch before a Euro 2016 qualifier.

But the fans returned in full force on Thursday and the "12th man", which captain Luka Modric described as an "additional motivation", helped Croatia edge past Spain 3-2 in the Nations League Group 4 tie after an added-time winner from Tin Jedvaj.

Croatia were deserving winners in Zagreb, where Jedvaj's brace - his first international goals - snatched a memorable victory at the end of a pulsating contest, with Zlatko Dalic's men gaining a measure of revenge for the pummelling they received in Elche.

"The best of this new-look team is yet to come," said Dalic, who has seen stalwarts Danijel Subasic and Mario Mandzukic retire from international duty since Croatia's historic run in Russia. "We were rewarded for a magnificent match."

Group 4 is now wide open ahead of its final fixture between England and Croatia tomorrow. The winners will qualify, while Spain can still go through if the match at Wembley finishes in a draw.

After getting over their World Cup hangover, which saw his side take just one point from their previous two Nations League games, Dalic believes that his team "have it in them to beat England".

Andrej Kramaric had put Croatia ahead but Spain twice came back through Dani Ceballos' first international goal and Sergio Ramos' penalty, and Luis Enrique bemoaned the "completely unfair" result afterwards.

"We still have a chance. I would love to qualify for the final four (of the Nations League), but our top objective is the (2020) European Championship," said the Spain manager, who has now suffered back-to-back defeats.

"We knew we were in a group with two of the best teams in the world, but I'm not worried about my team. I can see areas we need to improve in, but football today has not been fair to us."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline ''12th man' spurs Croatia to sweet revenge over Spain'. Print Edition | Subscribe