By Jack Wilkinson at Stadion HNK Rijeka
Last Updated: 12/10/18 9:44pm
England failed to avenge their World Cup semi-final defeat as they held Croatia to a 0-0 draw in an eerie Nations League encounter behind closed doors in Rijeka.
Three months on from their heartache in Moscow, Gareth Southgate’s men had the chance at redemption at the deserted Stadion HNK, but just as they had in the Luzhniki Stadium, they were left to rue missed chances.
Eric Dier and Harry Kane struck the woodwork in either half before Marcus Rashford spurned two glorious chances to secure England’s first victory of their campaign.
But a first point in testing circumstances, and the encouraging debut of Jadon Sancho, would have pleased Southgate ahead of Monday’s trip to Seville, where group leaders Spain await.
A handful of England fans perched themselves on a hill alongside the stadium in a desperate bid to catch a glimpse of the game, but their endeavour was not reciprocated on the pitch as the strange conditions took their toll on both sets of players.
Last-gasp blocks prevented Raheem Sterling and Ivan Perisic from igniting an uneventful opening quarter, while it took 37 minutes for the game’s first attempt on target.
Andre Kramaric released Josip Pivaric on the overlap and his low cross, which was dummied by Ante Rebic, found Perisic in space in the area, but his first-time effort drew Jordan Pickford into action.
Set pieces proved crucial in England’s run to the World Cup semi-final and their prowess nearly came to the fore on 43 minutes as Dier flicked a Jordan Henderson corner against the post, with the rebound agonisingly eluding three incoming attackers.
There was a drastic increase in tempo after the interval. Within four minutes, Perisic had stung Pickford’s palms with an 18-yard drive through bodies before England hit the woodwork for the second time when Kane crashed a header against the Croatian crossbar.
England, galvanised by that chance, had appeals for a penalty a minute later when Ross Barkley went to ground after appearing to have his heels clipped by Rebic, but referee Felix Brych was unmoved.
Frustration from that decision then got the better of John Stones, who scythed Ivan Rakitic to ground in the next passage of play and picked up a booking that sees him suspended alongside Henderson – who was booked in the first half – for Monday’s game in Spain.
The chances kept coming for England as Kyle Walker released Rashford through on goal but his scuffed shot proved no match for Dominik Livakovic. Two minutes later and Rashford was in again, but it was the same story as the Croatia goalkeeper pulled off a fine save at point-blank range.
Kramaric sliced a shot wide on 67 minutes before Rebic curled a brilliant effort inches of Pickford’s left-hand corner. England then had the ball in the back of the net 16 minutes from time but Kane was rightfully flagged offside.
The introduction of debutant Sancho gave England added vigour in the closing stages but there was to be no goal as a remarkable international game ended on a note as flat as those in the stands.
Spain vs England
October 15, 2018, 7:00pm
England resume their Nations League campaign in Seville against group leaders Spain on Monday – live on Sky Sports Main Event – while Croatia host Jordan in an international friendly.