Croatia and England play out goalless stalemate in empty stadium
Croatia and England drew 0-0 in the UEFA Nations League as a surreal match in front of an empty stadium in Rijeka produced only a handful of chances but gave both teams their first point.
The result left both sides with one point from two games behind runaway leaders Spain, who have six points and host England in Seville on Monday.
England manager Gareth Southgate was disappointed with the outcome, saying: “Second half we were by far the better team and if we had taken our chances we would have won the game.
“There would be more concern if we weren’t creating chances. We showed good endeavour and creative play. We have to keep getting in those situations.”
The game was played behind closed doors because it was Croatia’s second UEFA home match since a two-game sanction imposed after a swastika was marked on the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.
The home side got the match under way and tried to get the ball forward immediately, but England got it clear.
Southgate’s side then attacked, only for a neat passing move to break down when Jordan Henderson was unable to find the final ball.
With six minutes gone, Henderson went into the book for a clumsy challenge on Ivan Rakitic as the Croatia player moved into a pocket of space.
Ben Chilwell and Kyle Walker were getting forward regularly, and a dangerous Chilwell cross was cut out before it could reach the waiting Raheem Sterling.
England had another chance to put in a threatening delivery soon afterwards when Harry Kane was fouled, but Chilwell’s pass was too long for John Stones.
Croatia came to life as the 20-minute mark approached, Domagoj Vida and Ante Rebic combining to win a corner that was played short and gave Ivan Perisic a chance to fire in a shot that was blocked.
Mateo Kovacic became the second player booked for a bad challenge on Marcus Rashford, but England failed to ask any questions with their dead ball delivery.
Henderson and Walker combined to win a corner with a swift counter down the right as the game reached the half-hour, but again Croatia repelled the set piece.
England’s Jordan Pickford came to the edge of his box to deal with a long Perisic pass that threatened to set Rebic free, before Luka Modric failed to muster a threat from a free kick given away by Chilwell.
Andrej Kramaric’s bouncing strike was stopped by Pickford before Rashford, struggling to get into the game, could not make the most of a Kane pass that opened up space down the left.
England were within a whisker of opening the scoring from a corner just before the break, Eric Dier’s angled header going across goal and bouncing off the post to safety.
Following the match, Dier reflected on the first game England had ever played behind closed doors, although he noted the presence of a handful of England fans on a hill overlooking the ground.
“It was strange, the first experience of it for all of us,” Dier told Sky Sports. “A couple of fans got up on the hill but once the game started it was in the back of our minds. We could easily hear the ones on the hill, they were the only ones here.”
Dejan Lovren was booked for a clumsy tackle on Sterling as the first half petered out, but a much brighter start to the second half almost brought a goal for either side.
First Perisic saw a low drive well stopped by Pickford, and then Kane met a Henderson free kick with a header that came back off the bar before Perisic cleared.
Ross Barkley went down in the area as Rebic challenged but the referee waved play on, and Walker then found Rashford but, with just the keeper to beat, the forward scuffed his finish.
Rashford got clear again moments later but saw his side-footed strike saved by Dominik Livakovic as England stepped up the tempo and Tin Jedvaj was booked for a late lunge on Dier.
Kramaric sliced wide before Croatia made the night’s first change, Perisic making way for Marko Pjaca and the substitute almost making an instant impact with an effort that curled wide.
Kovacic was replaced by Milan Badelj, and soon afterwards Kane rifled home from Henderson’s pass but the flag was already up.
After 77 minutes, Jadon Sancho made his England debut, coming on for Sterling, and another change followed as Marko Livaja replaced Rebic for the home side.
Kramaric had another shooting chance but again failed to make clean contact, Stones blocking, and with seconds running out Sancho’s cross, after an excellent run down the right, just eluded his colleagues.