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Hughes seals finals place for England

Croatia 1-2 England (agg 2-4)
Will Hughes struck with 17 minutes to play to earn England victory in Croatia and a finals place next summer. 

Midfielder Will Hughes was England's match winner on the night
Midfielder Will Hughes was England's match winner on the night ©Getty Images

England reached their fifth successive UEFA European Under-21 Championship final tournament after defeating Croatia 2-1 in their play-off second leg in Vinkovci to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Liam Moore put England in front in the ninth minute and though Marko Livaja levelled before the break, a Will Hughes strike 17 minutes from time ensured England's progress. It was their tenth consecutive qualifying victory, the Young Lions having beaten Croatia by the same scoreline last Friday.

The inclusion of FC Barcelona's 18-year-old midfielder Alen Halilović less than 24 hours after playing for the senior side signalled Croatia's intent and they almost went ahead in the third minute when Mario Pašalić was brilliantly denied by goalkeeper Jack Butland.

It was England, however, who took the lead from a ninth-minute corner, Thomas Carroll picking out an unmarked Moore who volleyed high into the net. Now 3-1 up on aggregate, England were comfortable until the 38th minute when Croatia surprisingly drew level on the night. Halilović's long, high pass looked innocuous until Moore was beaten to the ball by Livaja whose shot slid under the advancing Butland. 

England, though, continued to make chances. Early in the second half Harry Kane fired over from close range then Saido Berahino smashed a shot against the post. Gareth Southgate's side eventually confirmed their place in the Czech Republic next summer when Derby County FC's 19-year-old midfielder Hughes rifled in from the edge of the area with 17 minutes to play.

Will Hughes, England
"We showed our quality and how we can play. Luckily we got the first goal, which controlled it a bit for us, but unfortunately they hit back and we knew it was going to be a nervy second half. But once we got that second goal, they had to score three and we controlled it from then on. It feels brilliant [to have scored], but it was a great team effort. We really dug in and knew it would be hard coming out here when there was only one goal in it … But we showed our quality in the end."