For some bizarre reason, Uefa has decreed that all electrical plug sockets inside Hampden Park must be switched to the continental two-pin style, 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 only intermittently entertaining afternoon, the play was more Scottish Premiership than highly technical mainland European league.
That was largely down to the Czech Republic’s gameplan of hassling and harrying Croatia off the ball at every opportunity and, to a large extent, it succeeded.
No matter that Zlatko Dalic’s 2018 World Cup finalists finished the stronger side; the early Czech dominance, confirmed by Patrik Schick’s controversial first-half penalty, leaves Jaroslav Silhavy’s side within touching distance of the knockout stages. Croatia, meanwhile, have only one point and face a tense final group game against Scotland on Tuesday.
The Czechs have already beaten Steve Clarke’s team, and they began where they left off from Monday’s 2-0 win; very much on the front foot. Vladimir Coufal swiftly saw a shot from the edge of the area blocked by Domagoj Vida, while Tomas Soucek directed a header narrowly off target.
At this stage, Silhavy’s pre-match tactic of talking up Zlatko Dalic’s players and Luka Modric, aka “Croatia’s brain”, in particular, seemed a bit overdone. Dalic’s ageing side looked a shadow of their former selves as they struggled to implement their coach’s pre-match instruction to be “more vertical and more offensive.”
After losing their opening game against England, Croatia were under pressure to perform but the Czech Republic refused to allow them to establish, let alone settle into, any sort of pass-and-move groove.
Much in the way that 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 the opposition half, Silhavy’s players needed to translate pressure into material advantage. Schick’s goals – one struck from near the halfway line- had made the difference against Scotland but when Jakob Jankto crossed dangerously and Coufal laid off, the ball became tangled in the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s feet and he miscued.
It was a costly miss as, almost incrementally, Croatia pulled themselves together with Modric finally coming into things. When, in the fall out from a corner, the ball fell to Perisic, Tomas Vaclik was finally called to arms and proved equal to the shot.
Then, after some deliberation, the Czech Republic were awarded that controversial penalty and Schick proved he can score from 12 yards as well as 49, sending Dominik Livakovic the wrong way as his left foot powered the ball precisely into the far, unguarded, corner of the net.
Schick had won the penalty after emerging from an aerial challenge with Dejan Lovren nursing a bloody nose. He claimed he had been elbowed deliberately but replays suggested the clash was purely accidental with Lovren, who won the ball, merely using his arms for necessary leverage while jumping. Indeed it seemed Schick had inadvertently ended up heading his marker’s elbow.
Yet Carlos del Cerro Grande, the Spanish referee, looked conflicted by Schick’s damaged nose and was eventually instructed to consult his television monitor by VAR officials before awarding the spot kick.
The start of the second half was preceded by a Croatian inquest 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-merged onto the pitch, where an evening sun had broken through the earlier cloud and Croatia succeeded in channelling all that righteous indignation into not only scoring but reminding everyone of their ability.
Appropriately Perisic equalised. Restored to the left, the Internazionale winger accelerated down that flank, cut inside on his right foot, dropped his shoulder, dodged a marker and, finally, beat Vaclik courtesy of a swerving high velocity shot suffused with far too much pace to enable the goalkeeper to prevent it hitting the top corner.
Suddenly a seriously ruffled Coufal could no longer contain Perisic and, with Nikola Vlasic missing a good chance for Croatia, Silhavy’s side clung on to their now precious point.
“We’re happy to get a draw against such a strong opponent,” said Silhavy. “I believe we will advance to the later stages and Patrik Schick will score more goals.”