Feeble Italy draw with Croatia but flares, fire and fighting will concern UEFA


Italy v Croata


Crowd disturbances marred this top of the group encounter between Italy and Croatia in Milan. Play was suspended for ten minutes in the second half, as local police entered the away section to put out one fire and stop more flares being thrown onto the field.

Croatia had been the better side until then with Ivan Perisic having equalised an early Antonio Candreva goal which came against the run of play. As well as any potential UEFA sanctions against them, Croatia will be worried about the fitness of star player Luka Modric who left the field in the 28th minute.

Both sides proceed to ten points from four games. In the same group earlier in the day, Norway moved onto 9 points after winning 1-0 in Baku against Azerbaijan. They have also played four games.

Italy and Croatia both went into this game having won all three previous matches in Group H. Both sides in fact were yet to concede a goal. Italy had lost only twice in their last 55 matches in Milan and not since 1925, when Hungary were the victors.

Captained by the legendary Gianluca Buffon, the Italy side had Daniele De Rossi and Ciro Immobile in the starting line up at the San Siro in Milan.

There were two changes to the Croatian side from their previous competitive game, a 6-0 win over Azerbaijan, with Perisic and Ivica Olic brought in for Andrej Kramaric and Mateo Kovacic, an Inter player who missed out playing on his home ground.

Domagoj Vida hooked over under pressure early as Croatia made the brighter start. Buffon also had to be smart to deny Modric, diving down low in the 9th minute to deny a large traveling support their moment of joy.

Against the run of play, Lazio’s Antonio Candreva fired Italy into the lead in the 11th minute. He was well set up by an under pressure Simone Zaza and shot well to the right of a diving but beaten Danijel Subasic in the Croatia goal.

The lead only lasted four minutes.

Perisic fired a hard but totally savable shot directly at Buffon and at a hard angle. The shot went straight through Buffon and under his body for a deserved equaliser. The goal will appear on highlight reels well beyond the borders of the Balkan nation but probably not on any of the ones they make of the Italian legend’s career.

Two early changes before the half hour disrupted the flow of the game. After seeing his side repeatedly exposed, Italian head coach Antonio Conte made a hasty alteration.

Manuel Pasqual of Fiorentina was removed for Roberto Soriano, in a move that seemed tactical rather than due to injury. For Croatia, there was less choice. Kovacic replaced the injured Modric and entered the stadium where he plays his club football.

The change worked and Italy began to slowly exert a slight dominance after being relatively under the cosh for the first half hour. That slow momentum shift was demonstrated when the two substitutes were involved in the next incident where Croatia’s Kovacic was booked for a foul on Soriano.

Buffon looked to have redeemed himself with an outstanding save from a Verdan Corluka header. Sadly for the keeper’s sense of self worth, the offside flag would have rendered the goal invalid.

He was left embarrassed again seconds later after fumbling a Perisic cross under pressure from Mario Mandzukic. He was them more than relieved to see Andrea Ranocchia clear Olic’s follow up off the line to prevent the Croats taking the lead. Buffon continued his case for a free kick in conversation with Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers as the sides left the field for half time, in a half where the Croats had maintained 59% of possession and outpassed Italy by 234 -139.

Italy started the second half well with Zaza testing Subasic from distance after a solo run. At the other end, Buffon reacted quickly to grab a shot that took a nasty deflection off Candreva.

In just 52 minutes, Immobile was removed for the man with the spikiest hair in Italian football Stephan El Schaaraway of Milan.

Nicknamed the Pharoah because of his Egyptian name and heritage, El Schaaarawy broke a 14 month scoring drought just last week at Sampdoria, after an injury ravaged year. His Serie A scoring drought lasted 622 days. His initial involvement was mostly defensive as Croatia dominated position around the hour mark.

Conte tried one more change removing Zaza and introducing on form Southampton forward Graziano Pelle’ after 62 minutes. With 27 goals in 25 games for his Croatian club Rijeka, it may have been a surprise that Andrej Kramaric didn’t start the game. Nevertheless he replaced Olic with 22 minutes to go.

Flares on the pitch interrupted play twice and fault seemed to be rooted among the traveling Croat fans. In the 72nd minute, a volley of flares were launched from those Croatia fans, one reaching the centre circle. Referee Kuipers consulted the UEFA delegate as a fire then broke out in the part of the stand occupied by the now seemingly undefendable Croatia fans.

After a five minute delay Kuipers took the players off the field.

Italian police were then seen fighting with Croatian fans as the delay reached eight minutes. Announcement on the PA in both languages then declared a suspension with the Italian players in the locker room and the Croats still out on the pitch.

After 12 minutes, the Italians returned to the field. Play resumed after a near 15 minute delay with another 15 minutes left.

Unperturbed, the Italians restarted positively. El Schaaraway had two shots within four minutes of the restart. The Croats seemed more affected by the behaviour of their own fans, perhaps already thinking forward to likely sanctions.

However it was Perisic the Croatian scorer who had the best remaining chance. He inexplicably fired wide from inside the box with just four minutes left.

The questions however will be about the lacklustre play of the Italian side and the rambunctious and disruptive behaviour of the Croatian fans, less than a month after Serbian fans caused the abandonment of a home match with Albania.

In Group B, Wales secured an excellent 0-0 draw at World Cup quarter finalists Belgium. Wales have 8 points from four games and Belgium 5 after just 3, with their sole win against Pyrrenean minnows Andorra. Israel beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 with Hapoel’s Gil Vermouth giving Israel an early tonic with a 36th minute opener.



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