Hats off Darijo Srna
Captain Darijo Srna missed Croatia’s first game to attend his father’s funeral. Three days later he was back in France preparing for today’s clash. Sina showed pride and courage to represent his country after such a personal tragedy and was understandably emotional during the national anthems.
He put on a resplendent display at right-back which was aided by Luka Modric and Milan Badelj marshalling the midfield, although it was not enough to prevent Czech Republic's late, late equaliser.
Hats off Vedran Corluka (and please keep it off!)
Anyone remember Harry Kane’s face mask? Or Wayne Rooney’s head cushion? How about that delightful alice band sported by David Beckham, or Robbie Fowler’s nose plaster? Football has witnessed some terrible face and head gear over the years and Vedran Corluka can join the group. The centre-half split his head in the first half and was bandaged up. Not content with a which bandage, Corluka found what looked like Maggie Simpson’s baby grow to plonk on his head. We all know it doesn’t look good — hopefully Corluka learns his lesson.
All eyes on Mark Clattenburg
Few referees in Euro 2016 have arrived in France with as much celebrity as Mark Clattenburg. The Premier League ref has had his fair share of controversies over his years in England’s top flight but remains by far the country’s best official.
Clattenburg refereed the Champions League final with aplomb — as this reaction to Pepe’s antics clearly demonstrate — and he was equally unimpressed with players going down easily in Portugal’s 2-0 win over Belgium this week.
Clattenburg got stuck into the action 15 minutes in with a yellow card for Croatia's Milan Badelj but the act made his job far worse as the game progressed, with both sides complaining subsequent fouls were not as harshly punished. He blew for half time before Croatia could take a corner, which further incensed Modric and co.
But the ref was at his best five minutes from time when Croatia fans disrupted the game by throwing flares onto the pitch. Scuffles broke out in the corner of the stadium as stewards intervened and Clattenburg was right to bring all players calmly towards the benches.
The events clearly rocked Croatia, who were put under heavy bombardment from the Czechs in stoppage time and that pressure broke almost immediately. Domagoj Vida handled in the box after a high ball was pumped in and Clattenburg pointed to the spot. Substitute Tomas Necid scored the unlikeliest of equalisers.
Croatia better on paper than grass? No chance!
On paper Croatia have one of the most enviable attacking units at Euro 2016. Mario Mandzukic is widely regarded as one of the top forwards on the continent, even though he endured a meagre debut season at Juventus last term. Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic (on loan at Inter from Zagreb) have the turn of pace and instinctive flair to petrify opposition defences, while Brozovic’s club team-mate Ivan Perisic scored a stunning opener in the first half.
Those front four players can win games by themselves and each would likely get into any other team in this tournament. And to add to their firepower, Croatia have Luka Modric pulling the strings in central midfield alongside the dogged and determined Milan Badelj, who does the dirty work so Modric doesn’t have to.
Croatia dominated this game until Modric went off and pinned back Czech Republic’s defence for long periods of the game, so dangerous was Rakitic and co. The Czechs only survived a 1-0 defeat against Spain earlier this week because Petr Cech was on fire and the Arsenal goalkeeper again proved hard to beat.
Tomas Rosicky’s still got it (just)
In one deft cross Tomas Rosicky proved he’s still got the quality to compete at the highest level at the age of 37. The former Arsenal player — released at the end of the Premier League season — started for Czech Republic and although he was no match for the Croatia centre-midfield pairing he did enjoy his bursts forward.
Indeed, Rosicky finally got space to roam when Modric came off with what looked like either a minor injury or just to be rested. Rosicky flicked in a cross with the outside of his boot for Milan Skoda to score a consolation header. It was sublime. Skoda did much of the work — powerfully directing the ball into the corner of the net — but Rosicky must get the plaudits for his role in the goal.
Arsenal signed Rosicky a decade ago in part because of his impressive performances during World Cup 2006 qualification for Czech Republic and he was one of the players of the tournament in Germany. Gunners fans will have fond memories of the nippy playmaker, who could maybe still do a job at club level in England if he could stay injury free.