Croatia vs England: The eerieness of playing behind closed doors
The silent and empty stadium in Rijeka was surreal for most of the England players as they finally got to experience what it feels like to play football without the fans cheering them on. There was hardly any emotion, or any stress and tension, which led the game to be one dimensional and flat in the first half, to say the least.
England created some opportunities later in the match, courtesy of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford as Gareth Southgate's side tried to adapt to the bizarre evening, while Croatia almost did nothing at all. Both the teams severely lacked in energy and passion. Most of the near goal shots were greeted with silence while the shouts of the players on the pitch was clearly heard as there were hardly any noises from the very few fans who were there.
There is almost no explanation regarding why the game felt so dead unless we divulge into technicalities. It might be because Croatia is lacking in passion after losing the final in the World Cup. Or it might be because of the retirement of Mandzukic, which might have affected the team too. As for England, the pairing of Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson in the midfield was unusual and didn't work as well as Southgate would have expected.
Football is all about the emotion, the anger, and the pride, the joy and the heartbreaks, both between the players on the field and the fans cheering them on while they play. Fans alone can push the players to give their everything and that's why home advantage is usually very helpful in the world of football.
Here, there were a handful of England fans up on the hillside behind one of the goals. But they were too far to be audible and they also couldn't even be seen from the pitch. Besides that, there were a few media officials and journalists trying their best to support the players.
This is one of the primary reasons why the game felt flat and the players lacked enthusiasm. It was dead quiet and you could hear the players clapping and singing their national anthem and yelling on the field. At one point Jordan Henderson asked the Croatian Manager if he's the referee taking offense on something he had said.
At the end of the day, it is very clear football is an empty shell without the fans in the ground. Zlatko Dalic summed up the whole game at the end by saying "It was difficult for everyone. And sad for football."