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Analysis - Croatia take eye off the ball after crowd trouble

Football Soccer - Czech Republic v Croatia - EURO 2016 - Group D - Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-?tienne, France - 17/6/16 Croatia's Domagoj Vida in action with Czech Republic's David Lafata REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff Livepic
Football Soccer - Czech Republic v Croatia - EURO 2016 - Group D - Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-?tienne, France - 17/6/16Croatia's Domagoj Vida in action with Czech Republic's David Lafata REUTERS/Jason CairnduffLivepic

By Philip O'Connor

(Reuters) - Croatia were sweeping into the knockout stages of Euro 2016 on the back of an imperious display against the Czech Republic only to be seemingly distracted and ultimately derailed by their own supporters on Friday.

Once trouble began among the Croatian fans in the stands near the end of a Group D game they were leading 2-1 and largely controlling, the entire complexion of the match changed, allowing the Czechs to snatch a draw.

The mayhem and the short interruption to the match, as flares were thrown on to the pitch and the players looked despairingly towards their supporters, clearly resulted in the Croatians losing focus.

On the resumption, the Czechs poured forward.

A careless handball from Domagoj Vida as he jumped to head away a high ball in the area gave Clattenburg no option but to award the penalty that substitute Tomas Necid gleefully smashed home with his first touch to level the scores at 2-2.

"I believed in myself," he said. "Even though it was my first touch of the ball I was sure I would score."

Yet only 15 minutes earlier, such a scenario seemed inconceivable. The Croats were cruising, with one foot in the last 16 for the first time since 2008 on the back of a superb performance.

MIGHTY IVANS

From the first whistle, they had overwhelmed their opponents, quickly sweeping the play from side to side and attacking at pace from a bewildering array of angles.

They defended stoutly too. Combative defender Vedran Corluka, with his head bandaged due to a wound for the second successive game, embodied the never-say-die defensive attitude that infused the entire Croatian team.

They harried and snapped into tackles, pressing high up the pitch and winning the ball before throwing plenty of players into swift counter-attacks, and were well worth their two-goal lead provided by their two mighty Ivans, Perisic and Rakitic.

The statistics give an indication of the gulf in class between the sides, with the Croatians forcing 11 corners to two from the Czechs and managing 19 shots compared to seven.

Even when substitute Milan Skoda reduced the deficit with a header 14 minutes from time it still looked unlikely that they could salvage anything from the game.

However, despite Croatia's late collapse, with four points from their two matches they still look easily good enough to make the last 16, and their performance for the first hour on Friday ought to concentrate the minds of potential opponents.

Equally, though, many will have watched the Czechs recover from two goals down and wonder if Croatia have the steel and focus to close out matches at this level.

What is certain is that they could do with a little more help from their followers in the stands.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ian Chadband)

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