No fans, no goals: Eng­land and Croa­tia play to a dull draw Je­sus scores as Brazil beats Saudi Ara­bia 2-0 in friendly

Malta Independent - - Sport -

De­prived of a seat in­side the sta­dium through no fault of their own, a small band of loyal Eng­land sup­port­ers watched the game from a hilltop over­look­ing the vir­tu­ally empty ground. There wasn't much to see. Eng­land and Croa­tia played to a 0-0 draw in the UEFA Na­tions League on Fri­day, a lack­lus­ter match that took place in front of no fans as the Croats com­pleted a sta­dium ban im­posed in 2015.

While this was Croa­tia's fifth be­hind-closed-doors in­ter­na­tional, it was a first for Eng­land, and that made it a some­what bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence for not only the play­ers but the few dozen fans who de­cided to travel to the coastal city of Ri­jeka to sup­port their team.

The shouts of the play­ers and the thud of a kicked ball could be heard dis­tinctly, as could the oc­ca­sional chants of "Enger-land" and "God Save The Queen" that drifted into the sta­dium from out­side. The only peo­ple in the stands were match del­e­gates and mem­bers of the me­dia.

Given the eerie at­mos­phere, per­haps it was no sur­prise the game was such a dud. Eng­land struck the goal frame twice — through Eric Dier and Harry Kane — and Mar­cus Rash­ford wasted two golden op­por­tu­ni­ties when oneon-one with the goal­keeper as Eng­land had the bet­ter of the chances.

This was a re­peat of the World Cup semi­fi­nal won by Croa­tia in July, and it seemed a world away from that tense, nerve-jan­gling night in Moscow.

The two teams are search­ing for the form they showed at that tour­na­ment, in par­tic­u­lar the Croa­t­ians.

This re­sult came af­ter last month's 6-0 loss to Spain in their open­ing match of the Na­tions League. Eng­land lost 2-1 to Spain its Group 4 opener in the top-tier League A.

Look­ing to the fu­ture, Eng­land coach Gareth South­gate gave a de­but to Jadon San­cho as a late sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute, and the 18year-old Borus­sia Dort­mund winger im­pressed with some surg­ing runs down the right flank.

Croa­tia had re­ceived the sta­dium ban from UEFA three years ago when a swastika was painted on its field ahead of a game. open­ing group win last month. Lukaku, who now has 45 goals in 78 in­ter­na­tional matches, hasn't scored in his last six ap­pear­ances for United in all com­pe­ti­tions.

Lukaku's win­ner came in the 84th, af­ter Mario Gavra­novic had equal­ized for the Swiss in Brus­sels.

The win­ners of the four three­team groups in League A will ad­vance to the Na­tions League fi­nals in June. the mark in Group 3. Bos­ni­aHerze­gov­ina tops the stand­ings with two straight vic­to­ries, while the Northern Ir­ish are yet to earn a point.

In League C, Fin­land won 1-0 at Es­to­nia and Greece beat Hun­gary by the same score, leav­ing the vic­to­ri­ous teams as the top two in Group 2.

In Group 2 of League D, Belarus beat Lux­em­bourg 1-0 to jump to first place, while Moldova beat San Marino 2-0.

The Na­tions League guar­an­tees at least one of Europe's lowranked League D teams will qual­ify for Euro 2020 through the play­offs.

Gabriel Je­sus and Alex San­dro scored a goal each as Brazil de­feated Saudi Ara­bia 2-0 in a friendly on Fri­day.

Je­sus opened the scor­ing af­ter a pass by Ney­mar in the 43rd minute and Alex San­dro sealed the vic­tory with a header near the end of the match at King Saud Univer­sity Sta­dium.

Dutch ref­eree Danny Makke­lie sent off Saudi goal­keeper Mo­hammed Al-Owais in the 84th af­ter a video re­view showed he touched the ball with his hand out of his box.

Brazil, pre­par­ing for next year's Copa Amer­ica at home, will play Ar­gentina in an­other friendly in Saudi Ara­bia on Tues­day.

Liver­pool striker Roberto Firmino is ex­pected to re­place Je­sus in that match.

The Manch­ester City striker was un­der crit­i­cism at home for not scor­ing in the World Cup. The last time he found the net was in the friendly against Aus­tria be­fore the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia, a 3-0 win by Brazil.

"Ev­ery­one trusted me, coach Tite trusted me. What's in the past will stay in the past," Je­sus said. "Of course I was up­set (af­ter the World Cup). I stayed at my mom's to re­cover. It was not the World Cup of my dreams. I hope things im­prove from now on."

Brazil played the en­tire match in slow mo­tion, as if al­ready look­ing for­ward to the South Amer­i­can derby next week.

"We were not con­vinc­ing," Tite said. "We won be­cause he had cre­ativ­ity up front and that was it. Brazil ver­sus Ar­gentina is never a friendly. We hope to be bet­ter for that."

Tite ex­per­i­mented against Saudi Ara­bia, with Alex San­dro re­plac­ing Marcelo and Bordeaux de­fender Pablo sub­sti­tut­ing Thi­ago Silva.

Brazil had al­ready beaten the United States and El Sal­vador in post-World Cup friendlies.

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