Eng­land fail to win be­hind closed doors in Croa­tia

A strange night for Group A4 in a vir­tu­ally empty sta­dium

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER -

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.

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