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England play out stalemate with Croatia in Rijeka

14 October 2018
England play out stalemate with Croatia in Rijeka

The whole occasion had an air of unreality as the teams - who met in the World Cup semi-finals three months ago - were forced to play in a mostly deserted, echoing stadium as part of Croatia's punishment after a swastika was visible on the pitch before a European qualifier in 2015.

Southgate would have been excused for feeling envious when he saw Croatia's midfield, containing the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Harry Kane has defended his recent form and insisted his all-round game has not dipped in the aftermath of a busy summer at the World Cup and early return to pre-season training, with the England captain declaring himself fit and eager to lead the side out against Spain.

There was also a glimpse of the future as 18-year-old substitute Sancho became the first player born this millennium to play for the senior side, while 21-year-old Ben Chilwell impressed.

England managed just one effort in the opening 45 minutes, coming right at the end when Dier flicked on a corner and hit the far post, which neither Harry Maguire nor Rashford could convert from the rebound due to the awkward bounce.

Football supporters are a determined bunch and, if they want to see a game involving their team, it is often a case of "where there is a will, there is a way".

"He did something that none of the rest could do and that's control the tempo of a football match and when we talk about England not controlling a game, that's the thing the likes of Pirlo, Modric, Xabi Alonso and Xavi can do - they're the type of players you need at worldwide level if you want to control games". "A couple of fans got up on the hill, but once the game started it was in the back of our minds".

Much of that was to do with England's industry and always playing on the front foot. "We could easily hear the ones on the hill, they were the only ones here".

Penalty claims were rejected as Ross Barkley, making his first England appearance in 868 days, went down in the box - and Stones' frustration at that decision resulted in a foul that brought a booking and suspension.

Rashford got clear again moments later but saw his side-footed strike saved by Dominik Livakovic as England stepped up the tempo and Tin Jedvaj was booked for a late lunge on Dier.

"I don't think we should ever be rigid and only have one way of playing".

Kovacic was replaced by Milan Badelj, and soon afterwards Kane rifled home from Henderson's pass but the flag was already up.

"I was really pleased he was in the areas to get those chances and his general performance as the game went on, he looked more and more of a threat", said Southgate of Rashford.