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England rue Rashford misses in Croatia stalemate

Rijeka (Croatia) (AFP) – England’s attempt to exact World Cup revenge on Croatia fell short in a 0-0 Nations League draw in front of an empty stadium in Rijeka on Friday as the visitors were left to rue Marcus Rashford’s profligacy in front of goal.

Rashford twice fired too close to Dominik Livakovic with just the Croatia goalkeeper to beat, while Eric Dier and Harry Kane also hit the woodwork for the Three Lions as Croatia toiled.

However, a point does little for either side’s hopes of usurping Spain, who beat both last month, to progress to the first ever Nations League semi-finals next summer.

Croatia were completing a UEFA sanction to play two games behind closed doors after a swastika symbol was carved into the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy in June 2015.

A small band of England fans perched on a hill overlooking the deserted 8,000 capacity stadium in Rijeka tried to offer their encouragement.

However, the lack of atmosphere in the stands was reflected on the pitch with neither side understandably hitting the heights they did at the World Cup when Croatia beat England 2-1 in the semi-finals.

England boss Gareth Southgate had named a vastly inexperienced squad, including six uncapped players.

None of the new faces were named in the starting line-up, but Leicester’s Ben Chilwell was handed his first start and nearly created the opener with a fine low cross that Josip Pivaric did well to prevent Raheem Sterling turning home.

Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal to end England’s World Cup dream 93 days ago in Moscow, but without the Juventus striker, who has since retired from international football, Croatia lacked a focal point up front.

Andrej Kramaric had the hosts’ best chance, but placed his shot from Ivan Perisic’s cut-back too close to Jordan Pickford, who made a smart save.

England’s prowess from set-pieces played a huge role in their World Cup success and again proved a potent weapon.

Dier headed Jordan Henderson’s corner off the post a minute before the break.

And six minutes after the break Kane rose highest to a Henderson free-kick only to see his looping header come back off the crossbar.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic complained after a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain that his side were still fatigued from their summer exertions and they faded again as England took control at the start of the second period.

Ross Barkley largely failed to take his chance to impress in the Chelsea midfielder’s first international appearance for two-and-a-half years.

However, he had strong claims for a penalty waived away as he drove into the box and went over a clumsy challenge from Ante Rebic.

Rashford was one of few England players to emerge with credit in the last international break as he scored against Spain and a friendly win over Switzerland.

But the Manchester United forward cost his side all three points by blowing two huge chances in quick succession just before the hour mark.

Twice Rashford produced weak finishes to Livakovic’s left-hand side and the Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper made comfortable saves.

Croatia sporadically threatened on the counter-attack as Kramaric sliced wide and Rebic’s long-ranger curling effort flew just wide with Pickford beaten.

Southgate threw on 18-year-old Jadon Sancho for his international debut 12 minutes from time in search of a winner, but the Borussia Dortmund wonder kid couldn’t provide a final spark as England had to settle for a point.

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