Empty stands a sad sight for Croa­tia’s Dalic in Eng­land stale­mate

Croa­tia were com­plet­ing a UEFA sanc­tion af­ter a swastika sym­bol was carved into the pitch dur­ing a Euro 2016 qual­i­fier against Italy

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Croa­tia coach Zlatko Dalic de­scribed a 0-0 Na­tions League draw with Eng­land in a World Cup semi-fi­nal re­match as a “sad” day for foot­ball as fans were banned from the clash in Ri­jeka. Croa­tia were com­plet­ing a UEFA sanc­tion af­ter a swastika sym­bol was carved into the pitch dur­ing a Euro 2016 qual­i­fier against Italy over three years ago.

“The at­mo­sphere is not easy for any­body. It is sad for foot­ball but hope­fully this is our last time,” said Dalic. “Foot­ball is played for the fans. It’s sad the sec­ond and fourth team from the World Cup are play­ing be­hind closed doors. I don’t know who it is good for.”

In front of the empty stands, Mar­cus Rash­ford missed two glo­ri­ous chances to ex­act Eng­land a small mea­sure of re­venge for miss­ing out on the World Cup fi­nal to Croa­tia 93 days ago in Moscow. Eric Dier and Harry Kane also hit the wood­work for the vis­i­tors, who en­joyed the bet­ter of a sub­dued game be­fit­ting of the bizarre at­mo­sphere.

“It feels like a game we should have won,” said Eng­land man­ager Gareth South­gate. “We dic­tated the flow of the game for a long pe­riod. The sec­ond-half per­for­mance was ex­cel­lent, we were push­ing and push­ing right to the end and on an­other day we would fin­ish those chances.”

A small band of Eng­land sup­port­ers perched on a hill over­look­ing the de­serted 8,000 ca­pac­ity sta­dium in Ri­jeka tried to of­fer their en­cour­age­ment. How­ever, a point does lit­tle for ei­ther side’s hopes of usurp­ing Spain, who beat both last month, to progress to the first ever Na­tions League semi-fi­nals next sum­mer. “We could eas­ily hear the ones on the hill,” said Dier. “They were the only ones here.”

Mario Mandzu­kic scored the win­ning goal to end Eng­land’s World Cup dream in Moscow, but without the Ju­ven­tus striker, who has since re­tired from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, Croa­tia lacked a fo­cal point up front. “We need to stop talk­ing about Mario Mandzu­kic,” added Dalic. “He is not here and we need to re­spect his de­ci­sion.”

An­drej Kra­maric had the hosts’ best chance, but placed his shot from Ivan Perisic’s cut-back too close to Jor­dan Pick­ford, who made a smart save. Eng­land’s prow­ess from set-pieces played a huge role in their World Cup suc­cess and again proved a po­tent weapon.

Dier headed Jor­dan Hen­der­son’s corner off the post a minute be­fore the break. And six min­utes af­ter the break Kane rose high­est to a Hen­der­son free­kick only to see his loop­ing header come back off the cross­bar.

Dalic com­plained af­ter a 6-0 thrash­ing at the hands of Spain that his side were still fa­tigued from their sum­mer ex­er­tions and they faded again as Eng­land took con­trol at the start of the sec­ond pe­riod. Ross Barkley had strong claims for a penalty waived away on his first in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ance for twoand-a-half years be­fore Rash­ford was twice pre­sented with golden chances to score for the third straight game for his coun­try. But on both oc­ca­sions the Manch­ester United for­ward pro­duced weak fin­ishes to Do­minik Li­vakovic’s left-hand side and the Di­namo Za­greb goal­keeper made com­fort­able saves. “On an­other day we would have won 3-0,” said Barkley. “We should have been more ruth­less.”

South­gate threw on 18-year-old Jadon San­cho for his in­ter­na­tional de­but 12 min­utes from time. The Borus­sia Dort­mund won­der kid showed some im­pres­sive touches but couldn’t pro­vide a fi­nal spark.

UEFA NA­TIONS LEAGUE RE­SULTS

At Brus­sels: League A: Group 2: Bel­gium 2 (Lukaku 58, 84) Switzer­land 1 (Gavra­novic 76) At Ri­jeka: League A: Group 4: Croa­tia 0 Eng­land 0

At Vienna: League B: Group 3: Aus­tria 1 (Ar­nau­tovic 71) North­ern Ire­land 0 At Athens: League C: Group 2: Greece 1 (Mitroglou 65) Hun­gary 0 At Tallinn: League C: Group 2: Estonia 0 Finland 1 (Pukki 90+1)

At Minsk: League D: Group 2: Be­larus 1 (Saroka 43) Luxembourg 0

At Chisinau: League D: Group 2: Moldova 2 (Gin­sari 31, 67) San Marino 0

(Reuters)

Eng­land’s Eric Dier (left) vie for the ball with Croa­tia’s Luka Mo­dric dur­ing the UEFA Na­tions League match at Sta­dion HNK Ri­jeka in Ri­jeka, Croa­tia, on Fri­day night.

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