Marcus Rashford fluffs his lines in Englands eerie draw with Croatia

Marcus Rashford missed two good chances as England drew 0-0 with Croatia behind closed doors in the Uefa Nations League

Croatian football federation

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.

Quick guide

Why there were no fans at Croatia v England

Croatia were ordered to play two Uefa-sanctioned home games behind closed doors after a swastika was visible on the pitch of the Polijud stadium in Split during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy in June 2015. That game was already being played behind closed doors due to racist chanting from fans during a match against Norway.

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.

Ben Chilwell shields the ball from Croatias Ante Rebic. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Southgates explanation was that he did not want to be tied down to one formation but there was still an emphasis on the full-backs to venture forward and Barkley did at least play more ambitiously after a first half in which his habit of taking the safe option, rather than passing the ball forward, indicated some anxiety on his recall to the team.

Kyle Walker, preferred to Kieran Trippier, was one of Englands better performers and Chilwell also stood out in a first half notable otherwise for Hendersons emergence as the loudest player in the England team.

At one point Henderson took offence at something Zlatko Dalic had said and demanded to know expletives removed if Croatias manager saw himself as the referee. He could have been excused for his grumpiness: a booking for an early foul on Ivan Rakitic means he will be suspended from Mondays game in Spain. John Stones will also be absent after a yellow card early in the second half.

Southgate might have altered Englands system but one aspect of play that had not changed was the danger they posed from set plays. Diers header struck the post from one corner and in the second half another of Hendersons right-sided deliveries, this time from a free-kick, culminated in Kane heading against the bar.

These were encouraging moments for England but they were let down by Rashfords erratic finishing when the Manchester United attacker had two splendid opportunities in quick succession.

Dominik Livakovic, Croatias goalkeeper, should take the credit but on both occasions Rashford was unconvincing. The first chance, in particular, should have been put away but it was a strange lack of confidence from the striker once Walkers pass had reached him.

Kane would later see a goal disallowed for offside but Englands captain laboured at times and has gone half a dozen internationals without scoring. Sancho, a 78th-minute substitute, briefly threatened to liven up the night but Dalic summed it up afterwards. It was difficult for everyone, he said, and sad for football.

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Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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