Croatia and England couldn’t put the ball in the net during their UEFA Nations League match here on Friday behind the closed doors of an empty stadium.
One hundred days ago, Croatia beat England to reach the FIFA World Cup finals. Mario Mandzukic scored in extra time at the fully packed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. This time around settings were much different.
Stadium in the biggest Croatian sea port has just one-tenth of a Luzhniki Stadium capacity but all 8,000 seats were empty because of the ban that UEFA had imposed on Croatian Football Federation three years ago.
Both teams started their campaign with losses against Spain who beat England 2-1 at Wembley Stadium last month and three days later crushed Croatia 6-0 in Elche, which has been the most humiliating loss in the history of the Croatian national team.
In the first 45 minutes, both teams were getting used to a non-football atmosphere in which the players could hear every breath from each other. There was nobody in the stands to applaud for the good moves on the pitch. English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford managed to stop Andrej Kramaric’s shot in the 37th minute and England were close to scoring in the 44th minute when Eric Dier hit the post with a header after the corner kick.
In the second half both teams had much more chances to score. In the 51st minute, Croatian winger Ivan Perisic made Pickford to dive for a save, with his shot from the edge of the box. In the next six minutes, the visitors had three attempts to put the ball behind the back of the 23-year-old Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
English skipper Harry Kane hit the crossbar in the 51st minute with the header from five meters. In the 54th and 57th minute Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford had only Livakovic to beat but couldn’t do it. On the first attempt his left foot strike was too weak and his second, right foot attempt, Croatian goalkeeper managed to stop with the perfectly timed diving save.
Croatian team created two more dangerous situations towards the end of the match. In the 70th minute forward Ante Rebic created some space for a shot just outside the box. He aimed for the left-top corner and Pickford could only watch the ball passing him and, luckily for Gareth Southgate side, passing on the wrong side of the post. Ten minutes later Andrej Kramaric couldn’t get the perfect shot after inside the box to challenge Pickford.
Spain leads the Group 2 table with six points from two matches. England and Croatia are tied for the second place with one point each. England will play the next match in Spain on Monday, while Croatia will play remaining two matches in November, hosting Spain in Zagreb on Nov. 15 and visiting England three days later.