Croatia 1-1 Wales: Substitute Nathan Broadhead taps in at the back post to stun Luka Modric and Co and rescue a point on his debut as Rob Page’s side begin life after Gareth Bale with a superb draw
- It was Wales’ first game since Gareth Bale retired from football and Wales duty
- The game marked possibly Wales’ hardest game of the qualification stage
- They struggled to create chances but were worth their point on Saturday night
Debutant substitute Nathan Broadhead scored a dramatic 93rd-minute equaliser as Wales began the post-Gareth Bale era with a fantastic point away to World Cup semi-finalists Croatia.
Manager Robert Page looked to be in for a difficult night when Croatia striker Andrej Kramaric gave his side the lead after 28 minutes.
But the gamble to make a triple change midway through the second half, including the withdrawal of new skipper Aaron Ramsey, paid off in spectacular fashion right at the end.
When Croatia withdrew their legendary skipper Luka Modric to a standing ovation seconds from time, Connor Roberts’ long throw was flicked on by Chris Mepham and League One striker Broadhead from Ipswich Town converted from close range with his team’s first shot on target.
The result means Wales, who have qualified for the last two European Championships, be confident of beating Latvia at home on Tuesday to boost their hopes or making it a hat-trick at Euro 2024.
Nathan Broadhead scored a dramatic late equaliser to earn Wales a point against Croatia
Andrej Kramaric’s first-half goal opened the scoring for Croatia on Saturday evening
The game was Wales’ first since the retirement of former captain Gareth Bale
Page’s task was obvious from the team line-ups. With Bale heading a list of international retirements and Ben Davies and Brennan Johnson both injured, none of his XI had started in the last round of Premier League matches.
In contrast, Croatia were able to call upon evergreen Ballon d’Or winner Modric for his 163rd cap as well as Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Leipzig’s £100million-rated defender Josko Gvardiol.
Croatia dominated the early stages with Danny Ward forced into flying saves from the brilliant Modric and Kramaric.
Wales had a let-off when Perisic’s strike after 26 minutes was ruled out for a foul in the build-up but the visitors didn’t learn their lesson and went behind two minutes later.
Joe Rodon failed to deal with a long goal-kick by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic and from there Kramaric found it easy to muscle his way past Neco Williams.
Broadhead’s strike triggered electric scenes from the travelling Welsh supporters
With Mepham backing off, the former Leicester striker then caught Ward out with a quick strike with the outside of his right foot from 12 yards.
Roared on by a passionate support, Croatia nearly added a quick second when Modric’s volley from Perisic’s knockdown flew just wide.
Wales offered little in the final third in the first half and took 42 minutes to register their first shot when Harry Wilson’s free-kick skimmed the top of the wall.
Besides Bale who was capped a record 111 times for his country, Page had also lost Joe Allen, Chris Gunther and Jonny Williams from the squad that last year played in their first World Cup since 1958.
Manager Rob Page made some bold substitutions that included pulling Aaron Ramsey
Yet their more positive outlook in the second half meant they always stayed in the game and had a glorious chance to level after an hour.
A thrilling burst of pace by Wilson saw him eventually clip a pass to unmarked Fulham team-mate Dan James who drove the ball wide from eight yards.
Page then made his surprising changes after 64 minutes withdrawing Ramsey, James and Wilson with Ethan Ampadu taking the captain’s armband and Broadhead among the new arrivals.
Perisic hit the crossbar late on with a spectacular volley but Croatia still thought they’d got the points – until the late, late drama.
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