Sporting Life · Columnist
England should have secured their first Nations League victory after Gareth Southgate’s men dealt with the quirks of playing behind closed doors and had the best chances against Croatia.
Just 93 days after the Three Lions lost to Zlatko Dalic’s men in the World Cup semi-finals, the countries met in surroundings that could scarcely have been more different to July’s huge encounter at the packed Luzhniki.
The virtually-empty Stadion HNK Rijeka hosted England’s first-ever match behind closed doors as Croatia completed a ground ban imposed by UEFA for having a swastika on the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.
Eric Dier and Harry Kane hit the woodwork on a night when Marcus Rashford wasted two great chances, meaning the opportunity to exact World Cup revenge went begging as the Group A4 encounter ended 0-0 on a strange night for all involved.
Every shout, kick and challenge was audible in the match played out in front of a few hundred officials and journalists. You could even hear the beeping of an ambulance reversing behind one of the goals.
There were regular, distant cries from a small group of hardy England fans that had found a vantage point high above one of the stands, but those efforts were rewarded with a poor first half in which Dier hit the post late on.
England improved after the break as Kane hit the woodwork before Rashford missed two fine chances, while Ante Rebic curled just wide for a Croatia side that had lost their Nations League opener 6-0 in Spain.
Southgate’s men face their own Spanish test on Monday without the suspended Jordan Henderson and John Stones, but there are certainly promising moments to build on.
- England have drawn against Croatia for the first time since April 1996 in what was the first ever meeting between the two countries, with England winning four and losing three in between.
- England recorded just five shots against Croatia; the fewest amount in an away game for the Three Lions since June 2013 against Brazil (2).
- At 18 years and 201 days old, Jadon Sancho is the second youngest England player to win his first cap in a competitive game, behind only Duncan Edwards (18y 183d) in April 1955 against Scotland.
- Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is the first outfield player to make an appearance for England whilst playing for a club from outside of the UK since David Beckham (LA Galaxy) against Belarus in October 2009.
- England have kept a clean sheet in each of their previous four away games – their longest run on the away from home since a seven-game run ending in October 1997.
- Raheem Sterling has gone 1810 minutes without a goal for England – last scoring for the Three Lions against Estonia in October 2015.
- England captain Harry Kane has failed to find the back of the net in each of his last six games; his joint-longest run for England (six between June 2016 to September 2016).