Croatia 0-0 England: Wasteful England held behind closed doors
By Jack Wilkinson at Stadion HNK Rijeka
Last Updated: 13/10/18 9:15am
England failed to avenge their World Cup semi-final defeat as they held Croatia to a 0-0 draw in an eerie Nations League encounter behind closed doors in Rijeka.
Three months on from their heartache in Moscow, Gareth Southgate's men had the chance at redemption at the deserted Stadion HNK, but just as they had in the Luzhniki Stadium, they were left to rue missed chances.
Why was game behind closed doors?
Croatia are completing a UEFA sanction to play two games behind closed doors after a swastika symbol was carved into the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy in June 2015.
Eric Dier and Harry Kane struck the woodwork in either half before Marcus Rashford spurned two glorious chances to secure England's first victory of their campaign.
But a first point in testing circumstances, and the encouraging debut of Jadon Sancho, would have pleased Southgate ahead of Monday's trip to Seville, where group leaders Spain await.
Croatia: Livakovic (7), Jedvaj (6), Lovren (6), Vida (7), Pivaric (6), Kovacic (6), Rakitic (7), Modric (7), Perisic (7), Kramaric (6), Rebic (6).
Subs: Pjaca (5), Badelj (5), Livaja (5).
England: Pickford (7), Walker (7), Stones (6), Maguire (5), Chilwell (7), Henderson (6), Dier (6), Sterling (6), Barkley (7), Rashford (6), Kane (6).
Subs: Sancho (6).
Man of the Match: Ben Chilwell
A handful of England fans perched themselves on a hill alongside the stadium in a desperate bid to catch a glimpse of the game, but their endeavour was not reciprocated on the pitch as the strange conditions took their toll on both sets of players.
Last-gasp blocks prevented Raheem Sterling and Ivan Perisic from igniting an uneventful opening quarter, while it took 37 minutes for the game's first attempt on target.
Andre Kramaric released Josip Pivaric on the overlap and his low cross, which was dummied by Ante Rebic, found Perisic in space in the area, but his first-time effort drew Jordan Pickford into action.
Set pieces proved crucial in England's run to the World Cup semi-final and their prowess nearly came to the fore on 43 minutes as Dier flicked a Jordan Henderson corner against the post, with the rebound agonisingly eluding three incoming attackers.
There was a drastic increase in tempo after the interval. Within four minutes, Perisic had stung Pickford's palms with an 18-yard drive through bodies before England hit the woodwork for the second time when Kane crashed a header against the Croatian crossbar.
Ben Chilwell made his first international start as England shifted to a back four, while Ross Barkley returned for the first time since May 2016. Eight of the Croatian players that started their World Cup semi-final victory retained their positions, with Marcelo Brozovic missing alongside retired duo Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic.
England, galvanised by that chance, had appeals for a penalty a minute later when Ross Barkley went to ground after appearing to have his heels clipped by Rebic, but referee Felix Brych was unmoved.
Frustration from that decision then got the better of John Stones, who scythed Ivan Rakitic to ground in the next passage of play and picked up a booking that sees him suspended alongside Henderson - who was booked in the first half - for Monday's game in Spain.
The chances kept coming for England as Kyle Walker released Rashford through on goal but his scuffed shot proved no match for Dominik Livakovic. Two minutes later and Rashford was in again, but it was the same story as the Croatia goalkeeper pulled off a fine save at point-blank range.
Kramaric sliced a shot wide on 67 minutes before Rebic curled a brilliant effort inches of Pickford's left-hand corner. England then had the ball in the back of the net 16 minutes from time but Kane was rightfully flagged offside.
The introduction of debutant Sancho gave England added vigour in the closing stages but there was to be no goal as a remarkable international game ended on a note as flat as those in the stands.
- England have drawn against Croatia for the first time since April 1996 in what was the first ever meeting between the two countries, with England winning four and losing three in between.
- England recorded just five shots against Croatia; the fewest amount in an away game for the Three Lions since June 2013 against Brazil (2).
- At 18 years and 201 days old, Jadon Sancho is the second youngest England player to win his first cap in a competitive game, behind only Duncan Edwards (18y 183d) in April 1955 against Scotland.
- Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho is the first outfield player to make an appearance for England whilst playing for a club from outside of the UK since David Beckham (LA Galaxy) against Belarus in October 2009.
- England have kept a clean sheet in each of their previous four away games - their longest run on the away from home since a seven-game run ending in October 1997.
Zlatko Dalic: "The game was difficult as we expected. The atmosphere is not easy for anybody, its sad for football. But we played much better than the previous game against Spain. It's still not our top level we want to play at but it was better, we were braver and more decisive. We were a little bit lucky with England hitting the post two times, but overall I'm satisfied, our game organisation was fine."
Gareth Southgate: "The application of the players was superb. There was no let-up in their work ethic throughout the game and defensively they were really strong. They showed good enthusiasm to play and our performance was really good. The only disappointment was that we did not take the chances that we had, but I'm really pleased with the way we played."
Man of the Match - Ben Chilwell
It was a straight toss between Leicester's left-back and Ross Barkley for the award. Barkley, making his first England appearance in almost two-and-a-half-years steadily grew into the game and looked as though he'd never been away. But Chilwell's seamless adaption to international football was impressive. With just 11 international minutes to his name before the game in Rijeka, he was thrust into an England back four on his first Three Lions start, and his performance drew praise from his manager.
England resume their Nations League campaign in Seville against group leaders Spain on Monday - live on Sky Sports Main Event - while Croatia host Jordan in an international friendly.