Croatia 1-1 Wales: Nathan Broadhead nicks stoppage-time equaliser to bag huge point in Group D

Nathan Broadhead scored a stoppage-time equaliser to steal Wales a 1-1 draw with Croatia as they kicked off their new era without Gareth Bale with a big result.

Andrej Kramaric opened the scoring before the break, taking advantage of some lacklustre Welsh defending in a one-sided game in Split. However, Croatia couldn’t finish Wales off, with Mateo Kovacic missing a sitter and Ivan Perisic hitting the crossbar.

It left the door open for a patched-up Wales to sensationally level matters with the last kick when Ipswich Town’s Broadhead, making his debut from the bench, prodded home at the back post following a Connor Roberts long throw.

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Robert Earnshaw described Wales’ 1-1 draw as a real ‘smash and grab’ against Croatia in their Euro 2024 qualifier

In their first international since Gareth Bale’s retirement, Wales boss Rob Page had headaches to contend with as Brennan Johnson (groin) and Ben Davies (hamstring) were both missing while Dan James, Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore – Wales’ starting front three – had only played 610 minutes of football between them in the Premier League this season.

James, Wilson, Moore and skipper Aaron Ramsey had all been substituted when Broadhead popped up with the late smash-and-grab.

Player ratings

Croatia: Livakovic (6), Juranovic (7), Sutalo (7), Gvardiol (6), Sosa (7), Modric (8), Kovacic (7), Brozovic (7), Kramaric (7), Perisic (7), Livaja (7)

Subs: Musa (6), Vlasic (6), Palasic (6)

Wales: Ward (8), Williams (5), Mepham (6), Rodon (6), Roberts (7), Ampadu (6), Wilson (6), Ramsey (6), Morrell (6), James (6), Moore (5)

Subs: Broadhead (8), Burns (6), Bradshaw (6), Thomas (6), James (6)

Player of the match: Luka Modric

How Wales grabbed huge result…

Bale called time on his trophy-laden career after scoring 41 goals and winning 111 caps for Wales – both national-team records – while fellow Euro 2016 heroes Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams also ended their international careers.

Wales’ qualifying campaign

  • March 25: Croatia (a)
  • March 28: Latvia (h)
  • June 16: Armenia (h)
  • June 19: Turkey (a)
  • September 11: Latvia (a)
  • October 15: Croatia (h)
  • November 18: Armenia (a)
  • November 21: Turkey (h)

Croatia dominated from start to finish as Wales lacked any chemistry in attack, with Danny Ward coming to the fore at key times in the match with some smart goalkeeping.

Marcelo Brozovic blazed over before Ivan Perisic thought he had provided the lead with a deflected strike only for Portuguese referee Joao Pinheiro to spot a push on a Welsh defender.

That reprieve lasted a matter of moments as Croatia took a 28th-minute lead.

Weak defending from Joe Rodon and Neco Williams afforded space for Kramaric to find the bottom of Ward’s net from 20 yards.

Croatia's Andrej Kramaric, centre, scores his side's opening goal during the Euro 2024 group D qualifying soccer match between Croatia and Wales at the Poljud stadium in Split, Croatia, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Andrej Kramaric scores Croatia’s opening goal

It might have got worse for Wales but Modric and Kramaric were wayward and Ward clung on to Borna Sosa’s shot.

Mateo Kovacic blazed over just after the restart after some fantastic approach play but Wales were much improved and fashioned their first clear opening after an hour.

Wilson located James unmarked at the far post but the winger snatched at his volley and failed to find the target.

Wales' Daniel James, centre, attempts a goal during the Euro 2024 group D qualifying soccer match between Croatia and Wales at the Poljud stadium in Split, Croatia, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Wales’ Daniel James attempts a goal against Croatia

James, Ramsey and Wilson exited in a triple substitution four minutes later as Page’s thoughts seemingly turned to Tuesday’s must-win home game against Latvia.

The switch appeared to rob Wales of any momentum they were building and Perisic struck the crossbar eight minutes from time.

But Wales were not done and Ipswich striker Broadhead was the hero as he timed his run to the far post to perfection.

A goal that only grabbed a draw but one that will feel like a victory to Page’s side after they had been forced to soak up so much pressure.

Page: Broadhead was in tears

Wales manager Rob Page:

“I’m really pleased for him. He’s not going to like me saying this, but it’s an emotional game and he was in tears at the end with the supporters. It means the world to him. I’ve worked with Nathan in the Under-21s in Toulon six or seven years ago.

“I’ve watched his development and he’s earned the right to be part of the squad now. I’ve known all about him before this camp and we’ve been itching to get him involved.”

On Wales’ subs, Page added: “We had a target for the points we wanted to get, it’s all about the home game for us.

“That was the winnable game, and we always knew that on the hour we were going to make those substitutions.

“It’s beneficial to keep them fresh now for Tuesday, but when you get the equaliser like we did late on in the game it feels like a win.”

‘An absolute smash and grab’

Former Wales striker Rob Earnshaw speaking on Sky Sports News:

“It’s an absolute smash and grab, an unbelievable result for Wales.

“It’s huge for Wales, because it shows they can compete with a team like Croatia, and it’s huge for the group of players. It shows that you never give up.

“It has been very tough tonight – no Bale, no Joe Allen – but this is great for the new group, with six uncapped on the bench and three coming on.

“Really, Croatia should have won the game comfortably, but it’s something to build on for Wales, and I think we’ll see down the line just how big this is for them.

“You look at the group and think Croatia should win it; they’re the best team, so getting anything from them is a bonus.”

Opta stats: Wales score with only shot on target!

  • Wales’ equaliser at 92 minutes and 25 seconds was their first shot on target against Croatia in the match.
  • Five of Wales’ last seven goals in all competitions have come in the final 10 minutes of the match, with three of those (including tonight’s) coming in the 90th minute.
  • Broadhead’s late equaliser saw him become the first player to score on his international debut for Wales since Ben Woodburn against Austria in September 2017.

Where and when is Euro 2024?

Germany are hosting the tournament, which is scheduled to take place from June 14 to July 14 2024.

The format will be the same as Euro 2020, where the top two in each of the six final tournament groups will proceed to the round of 16, along with the four best third-placed finishers.

What’s next?

Wales will now host Latvia in their second Euro 2024 Qualifier in Cardiff on Tuesday, kick-off 7.45pm, while Croatia face an away game in Turkey on the same day, with kick-off also taking place at 7.45pm.

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