FINALLY, the Croatian curse is broken. Yesterday’s successful booking of a semi-final place in the inaugural staging of the Nations League doesn’t compensate for the pain of July’s World Cup defeat in Russia, indeed in terms of the significance of the result, the 2-1 win at Wembley doesn’t even make up for the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ defeat to Croatia that ended hopes of competing at Euro 2008.

In terms of reinforcing the progress that has been made under Gareth Southgate and persuading a group of young players that they are capable of winning a really significant trophy, though, turning around what was effectively a knock-out game against their recent nemesis could prove a key point in England’s development.

With 12 minutes of yesterday’s game to play, England were heading to a one-goal defeat they did not really deserve, but that would have reinforced a sense of inferiority against Europe’s top-tier teams. They were set to finish bottom of their Nations League group, a fate that would have resulted in relegation and potentially a much tougher qualifying group for the next European Championships.

Previous England teams might well have wilted. This summer, Southgate’s side couldn’t find a way back after Croatia claimed a one-goal lead in Moscow.

This is a squad that is starting to believe in itself, though, and five minutes after Jesse Lingard prodded home from close range to level the scores, Harry Kane slid in on the edge of the six-yard box to convert Ben Chilwell’s low free-kick.

Wembley broke into a state of delirium, something that is rarely witnessed in the national stadium, and that is perhaps the greatest possible endorsement of the Nations League, a tournament that has already proved a welcome addition to the international calendar. At the full-time whistle, “Football’s Coming Home” boomed around the stadium, no doubt infuriating the Croatians, who bristled at the song in the summer. Football didn’t quite make it home this summer – next summer, it just might.

That is overplaying the importance of the Nations League, but England’s presence in what is effectively a four-team shoot-out in Portugal next June is not to be sniffed at. When you’ve gone more than 50 years without winning anything of note, even the merest hint of success is something to cherish.

The thought of Kane lifting a trophy above his head next summer is an intoxicating prospect, but perhaps more importantly, the Nations League’s denouement will give Southgate’s evolving squad another opportunity to take on top-ranking nations in matches that matter. That, more than anything, is the biggest benefit they have drawn from their experience of the Nations League so far.

Beating Spain in Seville laid down a marker, but salvaging a winner-takes-all game that was slipping away from them was an even more notable step forward for England’s players, providing proof that they have already built on their achievements at the World Cup.

Yesterday’s starting line-up only contained five of the players that lined up in the semi-final in Moscow, and for all the talk of a lack of English talent, Southgate has developed a pool that should be deep enough to provide an opportunity of success in at least the next two tournament cycles.

There is an abundance of talent within the attacking ranks in particular, and whereas Croatia had picked England apart in the Luzhniki Stadium four months earlier, yesterday the tables were turned as England’s forwards ultimately proved too good for their opponents.

On another day, England could have been three goals ahead at the interval, such was the extent of their first-half dominance. As it was, they found themselves frustrated by a combination of sloppy finishing and some inspired defending from the Croatian back four.

Raheem Sterling was the chief culprit in terms of opportunities being spurned, and while the Manchester City forward might have silenced some of his critics with his two-goal salvo against Spain, he continues to waste far too many chances.

Breaking on to Kane’s excellent through ball, Sterling had an age to pick his spot from the right of the area, only to drill a shot straight at the body of Croatia goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic. Moments later, and he was breaking into the box again, only to spurn an inviting shooting opportunity by spreading the play to Marcus Rashford. If he could only improve decision-making, he really would be some player.

He found himself free again as Fabian Delph’s through ball unlocked the Croatian backline in the 16th minute, but Kalinic left his line to beat him to the ball. The goalkeeper’s clearance fell to Kane, who was loitering outside the area, but while the goal was gaping, the England skipper picked out the only player who had got back to try to fill it. As a result, a grateful Tin Jedvaj was able to head clear.

Six minutes later, and it was Croatia’s other full-back, Sime Vrsaljko, who was coming to his side’s rescue, with his magnificent last-ditch tackle preventing Rashford from scoring after Jordan Pickford’s quick clearance turned defence into attack.

Pickford’s pinpoint passing is now firmly established as a key part of England’s attacking arsenal, and while the former Sunderland goalkeeper was fortunate to survive an early scare when his hesitation led to Ante Rebic shooting over, the Wearsider was once again instrumental in his side’s success.

He wasn’t really tested in the remainder of the first half - Ivan Perisic, a goalscorer in Moscow, shot over at the end of the opening period – and the second half followed an identical pattern to the first, with England doing the vast majority of the pressing, only for the final act of putting the ball into the net to elude them.

Rashford thought he had found Sterling in the area, only for Antonio Milic to make a last-ditch tackle enabling Kalinic to claw the ball to safety. Sterling thought he had found space in the six-yard box, only for Delph to badly over-hit a cross from the left. It was becoming that kind of afternoon.

It got worse in the 57th minute, as Croatia claimed a lead they did not deserve. Perisic pulled the ball back to Andrej Kramaric, and after turning past John Stones on three separate occasions, the former Leicester City found the top corner via a hefty deflection off an unfortunate Eric Dier.

Suddenly, England were back in the all-too-familiar position of trailing in Croatia’s wake, but they levelled with 12 minutes left. Southgate threw on Lingard and Jadon Sancho in an attempt to change the game, and the former made an instant impact as he prodded home from close range after Kane had latched on to Stones’ flick on.

Lingard was England’s saviour at the other end moments later, hacking the ball off the goalline as Domagoj Vida thought he had scored, and the hosts’ crowning moment came with seven minutes left.

Chilwell’s low free-kick evaded the Croatian defence, but Kane timed his slide to perfection as he prodded home his 20th international goal. His goals in the summer might have earned him the Golden Boot, but this was surely his sweetest England strike.