On Friday, Czech Republic overturned a two-goal deficit against a dominant Croatia to earn a 2-2 draw. The match turned after trouble from the Croatian fans forced the game to be stopped before a dramatic finish.
In the first Group D match of the evening, Croatia looked to build on their good start to the tournament, while the Czech Republic were seeking to open their points account, as well as their goal account.
The match in St. Etienne began evenly, but the Croats looked the more dangerous side thanks mostly to their superior pace. After 20 minutes, Mario Mandzukic raced up the left side and squared the ball for Ivan Perisic who missed the ball by inches. Had he made contact, it would surely have been a goal.
Sixteen minutes later, Ivan Rakitic juked his marker and squeezed off a fierce low shot. But Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech was able to get a foot to the ball.
Only one minute later there was nothing Cech could do, as a wide-open Ivan Perisic lashed the ball into the corner of the goal. The 1-0 lead was a just reward for Croatia’s dominance and the Czech Republic’s inability to relieve the pressure with any productive offensive forays of their own.
Fans trouble mars Euro classic
Whatever adjustments Czech coach Pavel Vrba may have made at the half-time break, they weren’t enough to have an immediate affect on Croatia’s quick-passing, counter-attacking game.
The Croats picked up precisely where they left off in the first half, led by Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic. So it was fitting that Rakitic was the one to double his side’s lead, elegantly lifting the ball over Cech just before the half hour mark.
The Czech squad featuring Cech (age 34), playmaker Tomas Rosicky (35) and central defender Roman Hubnik (32) looked past its sell-by date. But after 76 minutes, former Dortmund and Arsenal midfielder Rosicky turned back the years, curling in a cross with the outside of his foot. Milan Skoda headed the ball in to give the Czechs hope.
Croatia’s dominance was such that they recorded three times as many shots on goal as their opponents and won nearly two-thirds of their challenges. But instead of running out the match, they had to wait after their own fans threw fireworks onto the pitch, forcing play to be suspended briefly.
UEFA announced after the match that the incident involving Croatian fans will be investigated.
And in the third minute of added time, Domagoj Vida handled a cross in his own penalty area. Referee Mark Chattenburg pointed to the spot, and substitute Tomas Necid displayed iron nerves.
The Czechs kept pressing in an effort to claim all three points, but with Rosicky having pulled up lame with what looked like a thigh injury, it wasn’t to be. 2-2 was the final score in one of the wildest rides this European championship has seen thus far.
Next Tuesday’s concluding Group D matches pit Croatia against Spain, and the Czech Republic against Turkey.