Czechs capitalise on Croatians' flare-up

Czech Republic's midfielder Tomas Rosicky (centre) vies with Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (left) and Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic during the Euro 2016 match between Czech Republic and Croatia.
Czech Republic's midfielder Tomas Rosicky (centre) vies with Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (left) and Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic during the Euro 2016 match between Czech Republic and Croatia.PHOTO: AFP

GROUP D

Croatia 2

Czech Republic 2

SAINT-ETIENNE • Croatia imploded on and off the pitch on Friday as a performance Ivan Rakitic labelled a thing of beauty was overshadowed by the ugliness that has become a depressing feature of this European Championship.

Ante Cacic's players were hugely impressive for the 62 minutes Luka Modric graced the pitch.

A few of their supporters were appalling for a brief period and the Czech Republic capitalised on the distraction to claim a 2-2 draw they scarcely deserved.

Rakitic appeared to have rewarded Croatia's dominance with three points when he clipped a fine finish over Petr Cech, doubling their advantage following Ivan Perisic's first-half strike.

Moments later, Modric, the game's creative heartbeat, was withdrawn as a precaution against a groin problem.

The Real Madrid midfielder is highly likely to miss Croatia's final Group D match against holders Spain in Bordeaux on Tuesday.

Even when Czech substitute Milan Skoda scored with 14 minutes remaining, there appeared little challenge to Croatia's authority or poise.

But then a bright red flare landed on the pitch to the left of Cech's goal. Then another, then another, until at least 15 flares thrown by Croatia supporters marked the signal for a small group to attack their compatriots.

One steward fell when a flare exploded. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, called a halt to proceedings for several minutes while a Croatian announcer pleaded with their fans to "leave the stadium and don't embarrass our country". A threat to abandon the game was also made.

But the Croatian supporters rampaged on and their players - distracted by the knowledge that their families and friends were in the same section of the stadium - lost their composure.

Domagoj Vida's needless handball in the 94th minute enabled another Czech substitute, Tomas Necid, to equalise with an emphatic penalty.

Rakitic said: "After the match stopped, they scored and it does have a connection with everything else. You all saw what happened and it's not easy after such a beautiful performance."

Cech said the disruption helped his side. "I'm terribly happy we managed to equalise, I must say the pause due to their fans helped us too," he said.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Czechs capitalise on Croatians' flare-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe