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2016 European Championship Qualifying, Group Stage 2016
  • Mario Mandzukic (11')
  • Darijo Srna (90')
  • Antonio Candreva (36' PEN)

Croatia maintain Group H lead, draw with Italy behind closed doors

Croatia remain in charge of Euro 2016 qualifying Group H after holding Italy to a 1-1 draw behind closed doors in Split.

Mario Mandzukic was involved in the game's three key incidents, the Atletico Madrid striker missing a penalty before scoring Croatia's opener and swiftly conceding a spot-kick to Italy which Antonio Candreva converted.

Defender Darijo Srna was dismissed at the death but Italy could not take advantage and grab a stoppage-time winner and sit two points behind Croatia in the standings.

Fans were excluded from the Stadion Poljud as a result of racist chanting in their meeting with Norway and further questions will be put to the Croatian Football Federation as a swastika had somehow been visibly carved into the playing surface prior to kick-off.

Italy had not beaten Croatia in seven previous attempts and made a false start when trying to end that hoodoo.

After only six minutes Davide Astori impeded Srna in the box, allowing Mandzukic to pick up the ball and step up to the spot.

Gianluigi Buffon spared Italy's blushes, for a few minutes at least, by diving to his right to deny the former Bayern Munich striker.

Croatia would make the breakthrough in the 11th minute, catching their opponents cold at a moment of disappointment.

Stephan El Shaarawy thought he had scored when he turned home Candreva's cross, but he was denied by the offside flag.

The hosts raced straight down the other end with Mandzukic flicking Ivan Rakitic's pass beyond a furious Buffon.

Italy struggled to respond and needed another penalty call to force their way back into the match.

Once again Mandzukic was involved as his handball against Andrea Pirlo's free-kick gave Candreva the opportunity to beat Danijel Subasic with a classy chip.

The second half - for which the injured Buffon did not return as Salvatore Sirigu took his gloves - started slowly and it was not until the 60th minute that Marcelo Brozovic threatened when powering Rakitic's corner just over the bar.

Italy wasted no time getting forward but El Shaarawy should have left Candreva's cross for the better-placed Claudio Marchisio - the slightly less physical imposing player could only nod the ball over.

A lull in the action was broken when Ivan Perisic tested his aim from distance, his scorcher from 25 yards searing just wide, and the Wolfsburg winger was soon back to set up Rakitic for an effort that flew into the stands.

Croatia were giving nothing away as full-time approached but a late lifeline briefly appeared when Srna saw red for committing a second bookable offence, this time clattering into Marchisio.