Harry Kane believes England’s late win over Croatia which sealed progression to the Nations League Finals shows how far the team have progressed since the World Cup.
Just 130 days after an agonising semi-final defeat to the same opponents in Russia, the Three Lions rallied from a goal down to secure a 2-1 victory at Wembley.
Despite dominating the first half, poor finishing saw England go in level at the interval before Andrej Kramaric’s deflected strike gave the visitors the lead against the run of play.
But, unlike in Moscow, England fought back and levelled through substitute Jesse Lingard, who then hacked a Croatia effort off the line before Kane slid in to turn home an 85th-minute free-kick.
Gareth Southgate’s side needed to win to qualify for the inaugural Nations League Finals next summer – and were set for relegation to League B before Kane ended a seven-match international run without a goal to send England through.
“It’s unbelievable,” he told Sky Sports. “We wanted to do this so badly. It was disappointing after the summer. To get the win was special. One of the biggest goals I’ve ever scored? For sure.
“I think it shows how far we’ve come. We’ve finished top of this group and shown what we’re capable of. A huge thank you to the fans.”
England started their Nations League campaign with a 2-1 home defeat to Spain, who finish second in the final Group A4 standings as World Cup finalists Croatia were relegated.
After a summer in which English supporters seemingly reconnected with the national team as Southgate guided them to the final four in Russia, Kane insisted the team were determined to continue their development.
“We were disappointed not to take our chances, but against big sides you have to stay calm,” he said.
“We said after the World Cup we want to keep progressing and get better – and the way to do that is by beating top teams. We finished the year strong. We’ll enjoy this one.
“It’s incredible, I’ve never seen Wembley like this in an England shirt. We want to make everyone proud. I know they’ll enjoy this one.
“We felt the crowd. We felt their presence. That’s what we need everywhere we go. It felt good. The lads stuck at it, we showed our character, stayed calm and deserved to win.”
The newly-introduced competition was largely derided before a ball was kicked, but there has been a level of entertainment in most of England’s four games rarely seen in friendly matches.
Now captain Kane is looking to become the first player to lift the Nations League trophy with success in Portugal next summer.
“Its definitely an opportunity for us,” he added.
“It’s another semi-final, two wins away from winning a trophy, so whoever we play will be a tough game when you look at the other groups.
“We are going to have to beat another top nation, but we have shown we can do it.
“It is a great feeling, I said the other day, nobody really knows how big this competition is going to become, you don’t really get many opportunities to win a tournament in an England shirt, so we have got to try and take full advantage of that. And it’s another semi-final for the fans to look forward to as well.
“We are professionals, we want to win everything we do, whether it is a new tournament or an old tournament we want to win. It’s a chance to win a trophy in an England shirt so we are going to try and do that.”
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