GOALLESS STALEMATE IN SILENT RIJEKA
Croatia and England struggled to find their best form as the two sides drew 0-0 behind closed doors. Both sides gained their first point of the Nations League, although England could have had three if they had been more clinical.
The 3-5-2 system that complemented England so well in the summer was ditched for this one. Keen to strengthen the midfield, Gareth Southgate returned to a back-four for the visit to Croatia. Kyle Walker replaced Kieran Trippier at his preferred right-back position, whilst Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier were joined by Chelsea’s rejuvenated talent Ross Barkley in the middle. Ben Chilwell was given a full debut at left-back. Croatia’s menacing midfield assembled in opposition.
With no fans present in Rijeka, the match began at a slow and tentative pace. It took England twelve minutes to create their first chance, with Chilwell crossing for Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City winger was just a yard out, but his marker Josip Pivarić did well to block the youngster’s root to goal.
The first-half continued in a similarly ponderous manner. The match’s first shot on target came late on in the forty-five. Josip Pivarić was involved at the other end this time, crossing into the box for Croatia. The ball fell kindly for former Leicester striker Andrej Kramarić, who swept the ball on goal. Jordan Pickford clawed it into his grasp at the second attempt to complete a fine save. But it proved to be a healthy wake-up call for England, who improved for the eight minutes left of the half.
The Three Lions were desperately unlucky with a forty-third minute corner, as Eric Dier struck the post with a downwards header. As the ball came back off the post, it eluded both Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire. At half-time, justly, the scoreline was 0-0.
As the second-half got underway, it took Harry Kane just five minutes to very nearly end his five-game international goal drought. Jordan Henderson’s freekick was met perfectly in the air by Kane, but the Spurs striker struck the bar. Just minutes later, England had an even better chance. Perhaps thanks to a lucky bounce, Kyle Walker ran almost the entire right flank, before playing an inch-perfect early ball to Marcus Rashford. The Manchester United man waited to sidefoot the volley, but caught it all wrong, and gave the goalkeeper an easy gather. England had missed a one-on-one opportunity.
Not two minutes later, Rashford was presented with another one-on-one, this time thanks to a well-weighted Sterling pass. Perhaps lacking in confidence [given his club goings-on], the United man played another tame shot right into the whereabouts of grateful goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. In just two minutes, Rashford had twice missed an almost gaping goal. Ross Barkley had a slight penalty appeal turned out without any luck as England ramped up the pressure.
With the match still level and with fifteen still to play, England’s only substitute came on. On for Raheem Sterling came the teenaged Dortmund star Jadon Sancho. With a Bundesliga assist every thirty-six minutes, maybe he would be the man to produce a crucial chance. He did have some very promising direct runs at the Croatian defence [and did produce a few crosses] but the match had no more golden opportunities.
The count of zero fans may have been a factor to the lack of activity here, but this match only evidenced the view of some football fans that international football is dying in both interest and quality. It certainly wasn’t a thriller, but England earned their first ever UEFA Nations League point with a 0-0 draw in Rijeka – in a game they ought really to have won.