By Paul Jones
Rob Page has revealed Wales hero Nathan Broadhead was in tears after scoring a last-gasp equaliser on his debut against Croatia.
Wales were heading to an opening defeat in Euro 2024 qualifying after Andrej Kramaric had given the World Cup semi-finalists a 28th-minute lead in Split.
But Ipswich striker Broadhead, winning his first cap as a 64th-minute substitute, levelled in the third minute of stoppage time after Chris Mepham had flicked on Connor Roberts’ long throw to secure a 1-1 draw for Wales.
Page said: “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.”
Wales had not managed a single shot on target until Broadhead’s late intervention at the far post.
But, after being outplayed for the entire first half, they appeared to be building momentum before Page made a contentious triple substitution.
Skipper Aaron Ramsey, Daniel James – who had just volleyed wide from close range – and Harry Wilson were all withdrawn with Broadhead among the replacements.
Page admitted that Tuesday’s must-win home game against Latvia was in his thoughts at that point.
He said: “We’d planned it (the subs) last week. The four forwards we had on the pitch are not playing at club level.
“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.
“I think the lads deserved it for the effort they put in, they put a right shift in.
“We knew we were going to have to suffer without the ball and it came true. They’re a very good team and we had to be disciplined in our shape.
“I knew that, as the game went on, we’d create chances. We thought DJ’s might be the one, but Nathan popped up at the end and took his chance well.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic blamed the dropping of points on his side’s failure to kill off the game at 1-0.
He said: “It was a shock in the last second of the match. We dominated most of the game but if you didn’t score the second goal this can happen.
“Wales are dangerous from set-pieces and they scored from one. Connor Roberts can throw it quite far and that’s how we conceded the goal. But as far as I can tell it was their only shot on goal.”
In their first international since Gareth Bale’s retirement, 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.
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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 Danny Ward’s net from 20 yards.
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.
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 initially appeared to rob Wales of the momentum they were building and Perisic struck the crossbar eight minutes from time.
But the energy provided by the substitutes eventually meant Wales were not done and Ipswich striker Broadhead was the hero as he timed his run to the far post to perfection.
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