Croatia throw away two-goal lead
Late drama as flares thrown onto pitch halt match and Croatia lose two-goal lead
CZECH REPUBLIC 2
(Milan Skoda 76, Tomas Necid 90+4-pen)
(Ivan Perisic 37, Ivan Rakitic 59)
Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.
Two goals up and seemingly cruising into the last 16, Croatia were sensationally pegged by the Czech Republic this morning (Singapore time) and suffered the additional disgrace of their fans bringing shame to a game their country had dominated from virtually start to finish.
Before Euro 2016 began, coach Ante Cacic boldly predicted that the current generation were strong enough to repeat Croatia's finest hour at the 1998 World Cup when they finished third.
That certainly seemed a reasonable shout this morning before his team inexplicably buckled as the battling Czechs staged a remarkable comeback to keep their hopes alive.
Croatia's defence is not the most mobile but, when you have such flair and creativity in midfield and attack, you play to your strengths which was exactly what Croatia did to justify their status as genuine dark horses.
That is, before their late, late capitulation.
St Etienne's Geoffrey Guichard Stadium, known as the green cauldron after the colours of its famous local team, was bathed in red, white and blue, with the Croatian national anthem bringing tears of both pride and sadness from Darijo Srna who somehow summoned up the energy to skipper his country just three days after returning home to attend his father's funeral.
Despite making two attack-minded changes including bringing in Sparta Prague's David Lafata, top scorer in his country in five of the last six seasons, the Czechs, with only one clean sheet in 20 previous fixtures, were pegged back straight from kick-off.
And it surprised no one when Croatia took the lead on 37 minutes.
Milan Badelj's perfectly timed tackle won the ball back in midfield and Ivan Perisic did the rest, charging at the Czech defence before driving low and hard across goal beyond Petr Cech.
Ten shots in the opening half by Croatia told its own story as their opponents were put to the sword.
With their Euro hopes slipping away, something had to change and the Czechs emerged from the break with far more purpose.
Ladislav Krejci's audacious overhead kick was comfortably saved but, just when the Czechs were enjoying their best spell, they gifted Croatia a second goal.
Roman Hubnik sloppily lost possession just outside his area and Ivan Rakitic, with sublime technique, chipped the ball over the advancing Cech.
Juventus' Mario Mandzukic, another of Croatia's danger men, came to close to a third as he blazed over the bar but, just when his team should have been out of sight, the deficit was halved courtesy of substitute Milan Skoda's stunning looping header from Tomas Rosicky's pinpoint cross.
It made for a nervy last 15 minutes, compounded by the sight of Luka Modric, seemingly struggling with a groin problem, having to limp off and be replaced by Mateo Kovacic.
Even more disturbingly, scuffles in the stands and flares being hurled onto the pitch at the Croatia end prompted referee Mark Clattenburg to briefly halt proceedings.
But few could have predicted the drama that was to follow when the players returned and the smoke cleared.
A long free-kick was pumped into the Croatia box and Domagoj Vida was penalised for handball.
Tomas Necid blasted his penalty high into the goal to drag the Czechs level and pick up an unlikely point.
Croatia, with four points, are almost into the last 16 with four points but somehow they threw away automatic qualification.
Iceland wary of Hungary
ICELAND v HUNGARY
(Tonight, 11.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Two of the surprise teams of the opening round of matches at Euro 2016 meet tonight.
Iceland came from behind to draw their first game 1-1 with group favourites Portugal while the Hungarians secured a convincing 2-0 victory over Austria.
"You can see how they (Hungary) are progressing as a squad and a team," said Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
"They are a really compact and solid team, known for their defensive side of the game but, against Austria, you could see how strong they are in attack." - Reuters.