Croatia mount two-goal comeback to draw USA U-17s
Croatia pushed the United States under-17 national team to the brink of World Cup elimination by mounting a two-goal comeback to secure a 2-2 draw on Tuesday.
Christian Pulisic spurred the Americans to a comfortable halftime lead. Pulisic slotted home after 20 minutes to open the scoring before prompting Brandon Vazquez’s second five minutes before halftime.
Croatia grasped firm control of the proceedings after halftime and eventually pegged the Americans back. Karlo Majic reduced the deficit just after the hour before Luka Ivanusec completed the riposte inside the final quarter of an hour. Josip Brekalo hit the post twice in the final stages as the Croatians eventually settled for a second consective draw.
The draw left the Americans with just one point after two matches in Group A. They require a result in their final group match against hosts Chile on Friday (live, 7 p.m. ET, FS2, FOX Sports GO) in order to keep their chances of a Round of 16 place alive.
Most of the early exchanges reflected the Croatian superiority in possession and the potential American vulnerabiliies in the wide areas. U.S. goalkeeper William Pulisic produced a couple of important blocks to maintain parity as the Americans struggled to cope with Brekalo on the left.
Croatia’s endeavor eventually allowed Pulisic to exert control over the proceedings. The Borussia Dortmund playmaker rejected overtures from Croatia to feature for the U.S. in this tournament and showed the importance of that decision by playing a role the first two goals.
Pulisic benefited from some sloppy Croatia defending and a tidy through ball by Luca de la Torre to slip behind the line after 20 minutes. His composed finish staked the Americans to a lead that did not necessarily reflect the balance of play.
Vazquez spurned a good chance just after the half-hour, but he also reaped the dividends of Pulisic’s incessant movement shortly before the break. Pulisic drifted into space on the right and served an inviting ball back toward the top of the goal area. Vazquez nodded inside the near post to double the American advantage.
Croatia manager Dario Basic responded with an immediate double substitution to spark his side before halftime. The drastic measures paid off after the interval as the Croatians seized firm control and used it to good effect.
Majic produced a deserved reply to throw the game back into doubt after 65 minutes. The buildup to the goal included a looping cross from the left and a scruffy knockdown, but Majic arrived at the perfect time to slot home.
The Croatian pressure continued build and eventually yielded the equalizer after 77 minutes. Ivanusec timed his run to perfection and tucked a pullback inside the near post to restore parity.
Croatia wielded its possession menacingly in the late stages only to see the goal frame rescue the Americans. Brekalo — the best Croatian player on the day — sliced inside and hit the near post inside the final 10 minutes. He repeated the feat in the dying embers of the game and watched Davor Lovren curl the rebound off the cross bar in response.
The frustrating denouement left Croatia to rue its misfortune, but the Americans somehow survived to keep their chances alive until Friday. They must improve considerable against the hosts to ensure this trip to South American does not end after three games.