Published: Sun, October 14, 2018
Life&Culture | By Sue Mclaughlin

Empty stands for England a reminder football should be for the fans

Empty stands for England a reminder football should be for the fans

A small band of intrepid England fans did manage to find a nearby hill to catch a glimpse of the Three Lions.

As weird and boring as last night's behind-closed-doors UEFA Nations League game with Croatia was, at least we got to hear England players shouting throughout - which isn't something you can always say.

England played three centre-backs throughout the World Cup in Russian Federation as Southgate's inexperienced side endeavoured to reach their first semi-final at the tournament in 28 years.

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.

At press time, Southgate appeared deeply troubled by the news that the England Supporters' Band had set up outside the stadium and were preparing to play the Theme From Dambusters on repeat for the duration of the game.

Eric Dier and Harry Kane also hit the woodwork for the visitors, who enjoyed the better of a subdued game befitting of the freaky atmosphere. They had one from a cut-back.

But on both occasions the Manchester United forward produced weak finishes to Dominik Livakovic's left-hand side and the Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper made comfortable saves.

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Dier and Kane both headed against the woodwork - but it was a miserable night for Rashford, who was guilty of two glaring misses, one when he shot tamely at the keeper when he was unmarked and seemed certain to score.

Kramaric had another shooting chance but again failed to make clean contact, Stones blocking, and with seconds running out Sancho's cross, after an excellent run down the right, just eluded his colleagues.

A point apiece leaves Spain out in front at the top of Group A4 ahead of Monday's meeting with England in Seville, as they have six points from their first two matches.

Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal to end England's World Cup dream in Moscow, but without the Juventus striker, who has since retired from global football, Croatia lacked a focal point up front. On another day, we will. "And tonight we played well".

"We've had success building with the three and with Eric in that position it's ideal for him to drop in, so that at times was the idea", Southgate told Sky Sports.

England, who also had a weak penalty shout rejected for Mateo Kovacic's clip on clubmate Ross Barkley, introduced Jadon Sancho for the final 12 minutes.

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