Czech Republic came from two goals down to keep their Euro 2016 qualification hopes alive in a dramatic 2-2 draw against Croatia, but crowd disorder marred the closing stages of the Group D match in Saint-Etienne.
Croatia appeared to be cruising into the last 16 thanks to goals either side of half-time from Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic, but a late comeback was sparked after Milan Skoda’s superb header halved the Czechs’ deficit with 15 minutes left.
Trouble among Croatian supporters behind Petr Cech’s goal then caused a delay of around five minutes, with flares being thrown onto the pitch before fighting broke out between Croat fans.
And Czech Republic snatched a point in injury time, as Tomas Necid rifled home a penalty after Mark Clattenburg penalised Domagoj Vida for handball in the area.
Croatia dominated the vast majority of the game and will wonder how they failed to win, while their disappointing afternoon will almost certainly get worse with UEFA likely to take disciplinary action for the issues caused by a minority of their followers.
Darijo Srna captained Ante Cacic’s side after flying home to attend his father’s funeral following their win over Turkey, with the experienced full-back visibly emotional during the national anthem.
The first competitive meeting between the countries started with Croatia on top, Cech backpedalling to tip a Mario Mandzukic header over the crossbar in the second minute.
Perisic had a golden chance to open the scoring after 20 minutes, but he could not stretch far enough to convert a low cross from Mandzukic after Marcelo Brozovic set up a counter-attack.
Croatia’s dominance continued as Rakitic cut inside off the right flank and got into the penalty area after 35 minutes, only for Cech to thrust out his left foot to keep out the Barcelona midfielder’s shot, but the opening goal came moments later.
Milan Badelj won the ball and fed Perisic, who drove into the box then produced a sublime step-over to create space to shoot across Cech and into the goalkeeper’s bottom-left corner.
Croatia should have had a second goal before half-time, too, but Vedran Corluka and Vida blocked each other in the box and their combined bundled effort went wide of the post.
The first shot on goal for Czech Republic finally arrived after 51 minutes as Ladislav Krejci swivelled to hit a volley over his shoulder, but Danijel Subasic made a comfortable save.
But a terrible defensive mistake let in Croatia to double their lead, Brozovic seizing on a loose pass to free Rakitic, who ran clear and clipped a delightfully calm finish over the onrushing Cech.
Mandzukic should have added a third after 65 minutes but he lifted a shot over the crossbar, and with 15 minutes to go Czech Republic found a way back into the game.
Substitute Skoda brilliantly headed in a Rosicky cross to set up an eventful finale both on and off the pitch, with Necid having the final say as he smashed a nerveless spot-kick high beyond Subasic.
Key Opta stats:
– Darijo Srna made his 16th major tournament appearance for Croatia, the joint-record for the country along with Dario Simic.
– Czech Republic faced 10 shots in the first half, the joint-most they have ever faced in the first half of a Euros game.
– Croatia conceded more than once in a Euros game for the first time since 2004, when they lost 4-2 to England.
– Tomas Necid scored the Czech Republic’s first penalty at the Euros since Karel Poborsky scored one against France at Euro 2000.
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