Report: England MU21s 1-2 Croatia
Young Lions suffer defeat at Craven Cottage in their final match ahead of this summer's U21 EURO Finals
Martin Baturina’s stunning free kick put the visitors ahead at half time, before Dion Drena Beljo doubled the lead from the penalty spot eight minutes after the break.
Gibbs-White halved the deficit four minutes from the end but Lee Carsley’s men were unable to find an equaliser in their final match before the start of their 2023 U22 EURO Finals in June.
The Young Three Lions started brightly as Cole Palmer found space down the right to cross, but James Garner and Noni Madueke both saw their efforts blocked in the box.
Palmer was proving a constant threat on the right wing, and nearly set up Curtis Jones with a dangerous ball across goal but his shot was once again blocked at the back post.
England looked the more likely to break the deadlock, but it was the visitors who did so through a tremendous curled free kick from Baturina.
Rico Lewis fouled Lukas Kacavenda just outside the box, and Baturina stepped up to curl it over the wall and into the top corner, giving James Trafford no chance.
England started the second half much on top, with Madueke the first to draw a save from Dominik Kotarski with a snapshot just inside the box but it was well held by the Croatian ‘keeper.
Highlights: England MU21s 1-2 Croatia
See the best of the action from Craven Cottage as the Young Lions tackled Croatia
Croatia then doubled their lead from the spot via Beljo, after Luke Thomas brought down Matija Frigan in the area.
It was nearly three just minutes later, but substitute 'keeper Josh Griffiths saved excellently from close range to deny Kacavenda after good work from Beljo down the right wing.
The Young Lions soon regained their dominance of the ball as they looked to find a way back into the match, Palmer the first to call Kotarski back into action with a driven shot at the near post after cutting in from the right wing.
Captain Jacob Ramsey was next, shooting from close range after excellent link-up play down the right by Manchester City pair Lewis and Palmer.
Carsley then rang the changes, with Gibbs-White immediately into the action, heading straight at Kotarski from the middle of the box after he found himself completely unmarked from a free kick.
England began to ramp up the tempo as they searched for an opening, James Garner opened up the Croatian defence with a lovely flick for Jones before Tommy Doyle curled an effort low to Kotarski’s right which was well-saved.
The visitors were not without their threat on the break as they looked to put the game beyond doubt, with Griffiths forced to save bravely at the feet of Beljo after he had raced in behind the England defence.
Emile Smith-Rowe was next to test Kotarski, who had a busy second half, but the PAOK keeper was once again equal to the task after the ball had fallen loose to Smith-Rowe in the box.
England eventually found a breakthrough four minutes from time, as Gibbs-White coolly slotted home from the penalty spot after he was brought down by Kotarski after racing in behind the Croatian defence.
The home side pushed hard for an equaliser but were unable to find that second goal to stop defeat in south west London.
Substitutes: 13 Josh Griffiths (West Bromwich Albion) for Trafford 45’, 7 Morgan Gibbs-White (Nottingham Forest) for Ramsey 62’, 2 Max Aarons (Norwich City) for Thomas 62’, 10 Emile Smith-Rowe (Arsenal) for Madueke 62’, 24 Djed Spence (Rennes, loan from Tottenham Hotspur) for Lewis 62’, 19 Harvey Elliott (Liverpool) for Doyle 67’, 16 James McAtee (Sheffield United, loan from Manchester City) for Jones 81’, 20 Angel Gomes (Lille) for Palmer 81’
Substitutes not used: 4 Levi Colwill (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan from Chelsea), 6 Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur), 9 Cameron Archer (Middlesbrough, loan from Aston Villa), 15 Charlie Cresswell (Millwall, loan from Leeds United), 22 Carl Rushworth (Lincoln City, loan from Brighton & Hove Albion), 25 Anthony Patterson (Sunderland)
Manager: Lee Carsley
Goals: Gibbs-White 86’
Cautions: Lewis 33’, Johnson 90’
Croatia: 1 Dominik Kotarski, 3 David Colina, 5 Nikola Soldo, 6 Hrvoje Smolcic, 8 Jurica Prsir, 10 Gabriel Vidovic, 11 Lukas Kacavenda, 13 Roko Jureskin, 16 Martin Baturina, 19 Matija Frigan, 20 Dion Drena Beljo
Substitutes: 7 Antonio Marin for Vidovic 62’, 15 Luka Jelenic for Smolcic 70’, 24 Mauro Perkovic for Kacavenda 70’, 21 Veldin Hoza for Jureskin 70’, 2 Jan Jurcec for Colina 81’, 4 Ante Palaversa for Baturina 81’, 9 Roko Simic for Beljo 81’
Substitutes not used: 14 Niko Jankovic, 17 Luka Stojkovic, 18 Marin Ljubicic, 22 Ivan Dolcek
Manager: Igor Biscan
Goals: Baturina 34’, Beljo 53’
Cautions: Frigan 64’
Referee: Krzysztof Jakubik