England fail to win behind closed doors in Croatia
A strange night for Group A4 in a virtually empty stadium
England should have secured their first Nations League victory after Gareth Southgate’s men dealt with the quirks of playing behind closed doors and had the best chances against Croatia.
Eric Dier and Harry Kane hit the woodwork on a night when Marcus Rashford wasted two great chances, meaning the opportunity to exact World Cup revenge went begging as the Group A4 encounter ended 0-0 on a strange night for all involved.
It was a poor first half in which Dier hit the post late on.
England improved after the break as Kane hit the woodwork before Rashford missed two fine chances, while Ante Rebic curled just wide for a Croatia side that had lost their Nations League opener 6-0 in Spain.
There was a glimpse of the future as 18-year-old substitute Jadon Sancho became the first player born this millennium to play for the senior side, while 21-year-old Ben Chilwell impressed.
The Leicester left-back provided a fine cross 12 minutes into his first England start and Raheem Sterling would have tucked it away were it not for Josip Pivaric’s intervention.
Croatia found the best way to stop England’s rapid attackers was scything them down. That approach earned Mateo Kovacic and Dejan Lovren bookings. Henderson’s own yellow card in the sixth minute rules him out of Monday’s trip to Seville, where England will face another top-level midfield.
Ivan Perisic’s blocked effort was the best they managed in the first half until overlapping Pivaric fired over a cross to Andrej Kramaric, with the former Leicester striker’s mishit attempt stopped by Jordan Pickford.
Southgate’s men failed to force a save in the first period but came close to the opener just before half-time as Dier met Henderson’s corner with a glancing header that hit the far post.
Rashford tried his luck from distance and Perisic stung the palms of Pickford when play resumed, before England struck the woodwork again.
Henderson swung in a free kick from the right and Kane got away a header that beat goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, only to come back off the crossbar.
Penalty claims were rejected as Ross Barkley, making his first England appearance in 868 days, went down in the box – and Stones’ frustration at that decision resulted in a foul that brought a booking and suspension.
Two minutes after failing to greet a fine Kyle Walker cross with the finish it deserved from close range, Rashford was put through by Sterling but somehow failed to beat Livakovic.
Tin Jedvaj was fortunate to only see yellow for a late challenge on Dier, but Croatia had now settled and Kramaric had a chance before Rebic curled just wide from 20 yards.
History boy Sancho showed flashes of excitement after his 78th-minute introduction, with his threatening late cross causing problems in a match that ended goalless.