Croatia, Italy draw behind closed doors in Euro qualifiers

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Split (Croatia), June 13 (IANS) Croatia and Italy played out a 1-1 draw in a Group H game of the Euro 2016 qualifiers behind closed doors at the Poljud Stadium in Split.

Croatia were without the help of their vocal fans on Friday as the European Football Association (UEFA) imposed a one match ban on Croatian Football Federation (CFF) for fans behaviour during their last home match against Norway played on March 28 in Zagreb, reports Xinhua.

Unfortunately, there was another shameful incident that could be damaging for the image and budget of CFF even without fans in the stands. Large portion of the pitch at the Poljud Stadium has been cut in the shape of giant swastika, symbol of German Nazi regime. It has been visible from the stands and from the air. There is no doubt that UEFA representative took note of that before groundsmen intervened in the half-time to cover it.

There were some notable absentees among the players on both sides. Croatia couldn’t count on injured Real Madrid star Luka Modric and experienced defender Vedran Corluka who served a one match suspension.

Italian head coach Antonio Conte had to rule out Paris-Saint Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, Roma veteran Daniele De Rossi, Juventus defending pair Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli and Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza, all out because of injuries.

Most of the action happened in the first half of the match and Atletico Madrid striker Mario Mandzukic appeared to be in the main role on both sides of the pitch.

In a span of four minutes, Mandzukic missed a penalty and than scored in 11th minute from a close range on an assist from FC Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

Just 20 seconds before Croatia got into the lead, Italy scored but Stephan El Shaarawy’s goal was deemed offside position of AC Milan striker.

El Shaarawy was close to scoring an equaliser in 32nd minute but Croatian goalkeeper Daniel Subasic managed to make a save.

Italy got a well deserved goal in the 36th minute from the penalty spot after Mandzukic accidentally handled the ball in the box. Lazio winger Antonio Candreva made a slick move sending Subasic on the ground and putting the ball into the net.

Croatia now have 14 points from six matches and lead Group H while Italy stay in second place with 12 points. Norway managed only a 0-0 draw against Azerbaijan at home and are in third place with 10 points, while Bulgaria in fourth place with eight points after an away 1-0 win against Malta.

The best two teams in the group will earn a direct qualification for Euro 2016 final tournament.

Croatia will play the next match of this qualifying campaign in September against Azerbaijan, who are managed by Robert Prosinecki, member of Croatian Golden Generation that won bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup.

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