Bakambu breaks Croatian resistance

France 2-1 Croatia
The hosts came from a goal down to reach Friday's final, substitute Cédric Bakambu's 83rd-minute strike proving decisive.

Bakambu breaks Croatian resistance
Bakambu breaks Croatian resistance ©UEFA.com

A late goal from substitute Cédric Bakambu sent France into the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final for the first time since 2005 despite the best efforts of a stubborn Croatia side in Caen.

Unbeaten in the group stage, Francis Smerecki's team fell behind for the first time in the tournament with four minutes gone when Arijan Ademi headed in, and it was not until Gaël Kakuta's opportunist equaliser shortly before half-time that the hosts could breathe easier. Croatia continued to prove obdurate opponents, however, with the home supporters having to wait until the 83rd minute for the decisive moment to arrive. Francis Coquelin skipped past three challenges and slipped a pass through for Bakambu to shoot France into Friday's final, where they will play Spain in a repeat of the 2008 U17 showpiece.

France's impressive displays in clinching first place in Group A had raised home expectations to the extent that another large crowd turned out, yet the boisterous atmosphere was punctured within four minutes when Ademi rose above Gilles Sunu to glance Zvonko Pamić's free-kick beyond Abdoulaye Diallo via the crossbar. Franko Andrijašević and Tomislav Glumac both passed up further headed opportunities as France struggled to cope with Croatia's set-piece threat, but as the half wore on Les Bleus' passing game began to pay dividends and only a last-ditch tackle prevented Yannis Tafer turning in Loïc Nego's cross.

Sunu went even closer to an equaliser just past the half-hour, wrong-footing two defenders with a drag-back and digging out a lofted shot that struck the outside of Matej Delač's right-hand post with the goalkeeper beaten. With the pressure steadily mounting, however, the Croatian defence cracked eight minutes before half-time as Mario Tičinović's misdirected header across his own penalty area found only Kakuta, who duly slotted past the exposed Delač.

France continued to control the tempo as the second period progressed but struggled to penetrate the Croatia rearguard, Antoine Griezmann's free-kick which was pushed away by the diving Delač the best they could muster until the closing stages. The Croatia goalkeeper touched behind a fierce drive from substitute Alexandre Lacazette in the 78th minute but could do nothing to keep out Bakambu's low strike five minutes later as France finally made the decisive move.