Croatia 1 Czech Republic 1
For some bizarre reason Uefa has decreed that all electrical plug sockets inside Hampden Park must be switched to the continental two-pin style throughout Euro 2020 but events on the pitch here failed to produce a similar culture shock.
Admittedly Croatia's Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric ultimately succeeded in raising the tone but, for much of an intermittently entertaining afternoon, the play was more Scottish Premiership than highly technical mainland European league.
That was largely down to the Czech Republic’s game plan of hassling and harrying Croatia off the ball at every opportunity and, to a large extent it succeeded.
No matter that Croatia finished the stronger side, the early Czech dominance, confirmed by Patrick Schick’s albeit controversial first-half penalty, leaves Jaroslav Silhavy’s side within touching distance of the knock-out stages. In contrast Zlatko Dalic’s players have only one point and face a tense final group game against Scotland on Tuesday.
Scotland’s strict Covid restrictions dictated that both teams cancelled respective pre-tournament plans to base themselves in St Andrews (Croatia) and Edinburgh (the Czech Republic) and, instead, flew in and out of Glasgow from Prague and Zagreb.
The Czech Republic knew victory would ensure they could board their return flight with qualification for the knock-out stages assured and they began where they had left off from Monday’s 2-0 win against Scotland here: very much on the front foot.
The game had barely begun before Vladimir Coufal saw a potentially menacing shot from the edge of the area blocked by Domagoj Vida, while Tomas Soucek directed a header not too far off target.
At this stage, Silhavy’s pre-match tactic of talking up Zlatko Dalic’s players, and Modric, aka “Croatia’s brain”, in particular, seemed a bit overdone.
Initially Dalic’s ageing side looked a shadow of their 2018 World Cup selves as they struggled to implement their coach’s pre-match instruction to be “more vertical, more offensive and create more chances”.
Having lost their opening game against England Croatia were the team under pressure but arguably the biggest problem was that the Czechs refused to allow their opponents to establish, let alone settle in to, any real sort of pass and move groove.
Much as Silhavy’s pressing game had forced Scotland into a rather rushed, slightly panicky approach, Croatia too found themselves snatching at the ball and were apparently unable to slow things down and control the tempo.
With a high percentage of the action taking part in Croatia’s half, Silhavy’s players needed to translate pressure into material advantage.
Schick's two goals – one struck from near the half-way line – had made the difference against Scotland but when Jakob Jankto crossed dangerously and Coufal laid off, the Bayer Leverkusen striker seemed to get the ball tangled in his feet and miscued the ensuing shot.
It was possibly a costly miss as, almost incrementally, Croatia had begun pulling themselves together with Modric finally coming into things a little. When, in the fallout from a corner, the ball fell to Perisic, Tomas Vaclik was finally called to arms but proved equal to the shot.
Then, after some deliberation, the Czech Republic were awarded an extremely controversial penalty and Schick proved he can score from 12 yards as well as 49, sending Dominik Livakovic the wrong way as he used his left foot to power the ball into the far, unguarded corner of the net.
Schick had won that penalty after he emerged from an aerial challenge with Dejan Lovren at a corner with a bloody nose. The Czech centre forward claimed he had been elbowed deliberately but replays suggested the clash was accidental with Lovren merely using his arms for necessary leverage as he jumped.
Carlos Del Cerro Grande, the Spanish referee, looked conflicted and eventually consulted his monitor before to, wholesale astonishment in the Croatia ranks, awarding the kick.
Admittedly Andrew Kramaric might have equalised before the interval had Vaclik not reacted smartly, diving low to keep his shot out, but Croatia had it all to do in the second half.
That second 45 minutes was preceded by an inquest on the penalty with match officials near the mouth of the tunnel with Del Cerro Grande making elbowing gestures while surrounded by Dalic’s disbelieving players.
Eventually everyone re-emerged onto the pitch where an evening sun had broken through the earlier cloud and Croatia succeeded in channelling all that righteous indignation into equalising.
Scored by Perisic, it was an excellent individual goal. The Inter Milan winger accelerated down the left, cut inside, dropped his shoulder, dodged a marker and, finally, beat Vaclik courtesy of a high-velocity shot that had far too much pace on it for the goalkeeper to prevent the ball hitting the top corner.
Suddenly Coufal could not remotely contain Perisic and, with Niko Vlasic missing a good chance, his side were left clinging on to their now precious point. – Guardian