Marcus Rashford missed two good chances as England drew 0-0 with Croatia behind closed doors in the Uefa Nations League
Of all the nights following England, it is difficult to think of a more surreal experience, when near-goals were greeted with eerie silence, when the players shouts carried across the pitch and at one stage, to Jordan Pickfords bemusement, there was a muffled chant from the nearby hills requesting him to wave at the 20 or so supporters who had climbed as high as they could to get a long-distance view. Englands goalkeeper peered into the darkness and dutifully lifted his glove without fully giving the impression he knew where these hardy souls were congregated.
This certainly was not an orthodox night for anybody associated with the England team. How could it be when it was the first time in 146 years of international football that England have ever been required to participate in a ghost game? It was strange, to say the least, and hardly a surprise it took so long before threatening to turn into the kind of match that might ordinarily have been expected. Even then, the excitement had largely petered out by the time Jadon Sancho came on for the final exchanges, looking eager to make a positive impression.
Marcus Rashford could not convert Englands most inviting chances and Gareth Southgates team had two efforts that came back off the woodwork. The lingering memory, however, will be the peculiar sight of two World Cup semi-finalists renewing acquaintances in a deserted, Lego-like stadium with hardly anybody there to see it.
If nothing else, it was nice to hear the national anthem being played before an England away game without a single shout of No Surrender. The public announcer, rather quaintly, wished everyone a safe journey home at the final whistle and, for reasons not entirely clear, the Croatian football federation still produced a programme even though, with no one to buy them, they mostly remained unwanted in a pile of boxes.
Security guards in fluorescent orange jackets could be seen monitoring the fences around the stadium and the caged enclosure where Englands followers would usually have been accommodated known, unofficially, as the Guantanamo stand (Hajduk Splits away fans even turned up for one game in orange boiler suits) remained padlocked.
The chants drifting down from the hillside came from a position among the trees from where half the pitch could be seen. That apart, however, the only other vantage point came from the balconies of high-rise flats next door.
It was certainly an eccentric night for Ben Chilwell presented with his England shirt by Emile Heskey in the dressing room to make his first start. After a year of operating with a wing-back system, Southgate had reverted to a back four. Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley were either side of Eric Dier in midfield and a 4-3-3 system had Harry Kane flanked by Raheem Sterling and Rashford in attack.
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