Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic admitted his side face an embarrassing early exit from Euro 2020 unless they drastically improve after a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in Glasgow on Friday.
The match was marred by a controversial penalty awarded after a VAR review.
Meanwhile a toothless England struggled to overcome a resolute Scottish defence in a goalless draw, while Sweden beat Slovakia.
And Denmark star Christian Eriksen has left hospital after being fitted with a heart-starting implant device following his on-field cardiac arrest earlier in the tournament.
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‘I’M EMBARRASSED’: ENGLAND SAVAGED FOR ‘DREADFUL, TEPID’ THROWBACK TO DARKEST MOMENT
England captain Harry Kane put in a dismal effort as a toothless England were held to a goalless draw against Scotland.
Gareth Southgate’s side would have been guaranteed to advance from Group D with a win over their old rivals at Wembley.
And the oldest international football rivalry – and the one which has seen the most matches played between two teams – promised much but delivered little.
Scottish fans celebrated wildly, but England fans booed at full-time in a mark of how poor the performance was.
Kane managed a game-fewest 10 touches in the first half, including just one in the box, and made just two of five attempted passes. He was hooked after 74 minutes with England lacking any real attacking impetus.
England failed to a record a shot on target in the first half for the first time in a competitive match at Wembley since 2014.
They finished with just one shot on target in the match, compared to Scotland’s two. The Scots also had 11 shots to England’s nine in a match in which the unfancied visiting side did more than just defend, but took the game to the hosts and were well deserving of a point.
Raheem Sterling, England’s hero in the opening match, could have had a penalty with a touch over 10 minutes remaining when Scottish captain Andy Robertson collected his foot inside the penalty area.
But the referee waved Sterling’s complaints away, while Robertson instructed his keeper to play the resulting goal kick as soon as possible in order to avoid a VAR review.
England have four points and will be certain of qualifying if they avoid defeat by the Czech Republic in their last group game on Tuesday.
Scotland, in their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, looked far more composed than in their opening 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic.
They remain in with a chance of going through if they win their final match against Croatia.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson told BBC after the game: “To be honest I thought we were the better team. Obviously the fans are delighted with a draw but on another night we could have won it and I don’t think anyone can really argue with that.
“We had our tough moments but England are one of the favourites to win this tournament so they’re always going to have that. The feeling that we have now, the feeling that the fans have, it’s important that we keep that and it’s not for nothing. We still have a long way to go in this group. We’re still not in a position that we want to be in but we take it down to the last game and that’s all we ask.”
With an average age of 25 years and 31 days, England’s starting line-up was their youngest ever in a major tournament match and as one of the few senior players, Kane hardly led by example.
Meeting in a major tournament for the first time since England’s win at Euro 96, this was a redemptive performance for Scotland, whose fans serenaded their team at full-time.
It was the 115th clash between England and Scotland, an ancient rivalry that dates back to 1872 on the pitch and centuries earlier off it.
The Tartan Army were officially limited to 2,500 supporters inside Wembley, but the coronavirus-restricted 22,500 capacity included hundreds more Scots who secured tickets in other areas of the stadium.
It made for a vibrant atmosphere, with the Scottish national anthem loudly jeered by England fans and “God Save the Queen” given the same treatment from the visitors.
John Stones should have raised the roof early on when the unmarked England defender met Mason Mount’s corner with a close-range header that crashed against the post.
But England were unable to make the most of their early flurry and Scotland’s confidence began to soar as the hosts grew more listless.
Kieran Tierney, back after missing the opening game with a calf strain, showed Scotland’s ambition when the defender advanced for a long-range volley that looped wide.
Chelsea youngster Billy Gilmour, making his first Scotland start, was dictating the tempo with a vibrant display in midfield.
The Scots carved open England’s defence with surgical precision moments later as Tierney surged onto Andrew Robertson’s pass.
Tierney’s cross picked out Stephen O’Donnell beyond the far post and his stinging volley forced a fine save from Jordan Pickford, with Che Adams heading wide of the empty net from the rebound.
For the second successive game, England had produced a plodding first-half performance.
Southgate’s men took just three minutes of the second half to finally test David Marshall as the Scotland keeper sprawled to his right to save Mount’s powerful strike.
Kane teed up Reece James, selected instead of Kyle Walker at right-back, but he lashed narrowly over from the edge of the area.
Scotland, competing ferociously and playing with intelligence, remained a major threat and Lyndon Dykes’ hooked shot had to be headed off the line by James.
In a bid to inject more creativity into England’s display, Southgate sent on Jack Grealish for the subdued Phil Foden and replaced Kane with Marcus Rashford.
Yet when England’s chance arrived, it felt to Luke Shaw and the defender screwed wide from a tight angle.
World Cup finalists Croatia have just one point from their opening two games and need to beat Scotland on home soil at Hampden on Tuesday to maintain hope of a place in the last 16.
Patrik Schick broke Scottish hearts on Monday with two goals to beat the hosts 2-0, including an incredible strike from nearly 50 metres that will go down as one of the best in European Championship history.
The Bayer Leverkusen forward had a much simpler task from the penalty spot to open the scoring after a controversial penalty, but Ivan Perisic’s stunning strike early in the second half maintained Croatia’s chances of reaching the knockout stage.
“We need energy, we are struggling,” said Dalic, who was heralded a national hero for Croatia’s run to the final in Russia three years ago.
“We had a bad start, we were slow and we were trying to set unnecessary pressure, we were not compact. But, after the goal we played better. Everything is still in our hands.”
The Czechs move a point ahead of England at the top of the group ahead of the Three Lions’ grudge match with Scotland later on Friday.
Coach Jaroslav Silhavy’s wild celebrations at the final whistle showed who were the happier side with a point, with the Czechs likely to have already done enough to secure a place in the last 16 thanks to their four points.
“I was surprised they didn’t attack us in the first half, they let us play and we made use of that, but we have to be more dangerous upfront,” said Silhavy.
“I have to thank the guys. It is a really precious point against such a strong opponent. We’ll see what the maths will show us, if it’s enough.”
– ‘BITTER TASTE’ FOR CROATIA –
Croatia upset Argentina and England on their road to the World Cup final, but have looked a pale imitation of that side so far this tournament without Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, who have retired from international football.
The ageing Luka Modric and Perisic remain by a distance their biggest threats, but both the veterans were critical of their side.
“There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn’t win. We entered the match really disorganised,” said Modric.
“We looked better in the second half. We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn’t win. Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through.”
Croatia can count themselves unlucky with the manner in which they went behind. Dejan Lovren’s elbow caught Schick as the two challenged for an aerial ball into the box.
There appeared to be no intent by the former Liverpool defender, but the referee still pointed to the spot after a VAR review.
Lovren tweeted after the game: “Joke of a penalty.”
Gary Lineker tweeted: “Encouraging to see that VAR is equally as ludicrous elsewhere. Never a penalty.”
Schick sent Dominik Livakovic the wrong way to move ahead in the race for the Golden Boot.
Ante Rebic had a great chance to level immediately, but summed up Croatia’s half when he sliced horribly wide.
Dalic had seen enough as he made two changes at the break with Bruno Petkovic and Luka Ivanusec introduced.
But it was Croatia’s reliable source of goals in major tournaments that came up with the moment of magic needed to launch their tournament less than two minutes after the break.
Perisic cut inside onto his weaker right foot to blast into the top corner for his eighth goal at a European Championship or World Cup.
“Everyone in the team has to give more that this, otherwise we will go home after the group stage,” said Perisic. “We have a chance, we can go through, but we need to be better.” Croatia had the better chances to snatch all three points as Nikola Vlasic fired inches wide before Tomas Kalas produced a last-ditch block to deny Petkovic in the final minute.
SWEDEN BREAK THE SHACKLES
Slovakia blew the chance to qualify for the last 16 with a match to spare after losing to Sweden in Saint Petersburg and conceding top spot in Group E to their opponents.
The Swedes were heavily criticised for their ultra-defensive approach in their opening match, a goalless draw with Spain, but Janne Andersson’s team were far more forward-looking on Friday.
Emil Forsberg’s penalty 13 minutes from the end earned Sweden a win which gives them four points, one more than second-placed Slovakia who had needed a win if they were to seal early passage to the next round.
Spain sit third in the group with a single point ahead of their game against Poland in Seville on Saturday, boosted by the return of captain Sergio Busquets to Luis Enrique’s squad after testing negative for Covid-19.
ERIKSEN EXITS HOSPITAL
Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen was released from hospital following a “successful operation” six days after suffering a cardiac arrest against Finland.
Doctors had said Thursday that Eriksen, 29, would have a heart defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart rhythm, casting doubt over whether he will be able to play again.
“The operation went well, and I am doing well under the circumstances,” Eriksen said in a statement from the Danish Football Union.
“Thank you for the massive number of greetings — it has been incredible to see and feel.” Eriksen was able to visit his teammates at their training base in Helsingor, north of the Danish capital. He will now return home to spend time with his family.