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Moments later, Modric, the game's creative heartbeat, was withdrawn as a precaution against a groin problem.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