Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Croatia at San Siro, but play was suspended when visiting fans threw dozens of flares.
Both teams were joint top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group going in with a 100 per cent record after three games. Elsewhere today Bulgaria drew 1-1 with Malta and Norway won 1-0 in Azerbaijan.
There had been fears this fixture would have to be rained off, but the torrential storms died down overnight and the San Siro turf was drained. Absentees included Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti, Mario Balotelli, Angelo Ogbonna, Davide Astori, Andrea Barzagli and the suspended Leonardo Bonucci, so Matteo Darmian switched to centre-back. Daniele De Rossi and Ivica Olic both celebrated their 100th caps.
Croatia had only ever lost once to Italy, their first meeting in 1942, winning three and drawing three. There were around 6,000 visiting fans in the stadium, over 63,000 overall.
Croatia immediately kept plenty of possession and Ivan Rakitic’s screamer bounced off Gigi Buffon’s gloves from distance, then the corner was not dealt with properly and the goalkeeper smothered a Luka Modric strike.
It was all Croatia early on, but Italy took their first chance brilliantly. Simone Zaza had a shot charged down, so rolled it back to Antonio Candreva for a fierce strike from outside the box that flew past Danijel Subasic at the near post. It was the Lazio midfielder’s first goal for the Azzurri.
However, Croatia’s pressure did count thanks to a howler from Buffon, who had already looked shaky. He got down too slowly and allowed an Ivan Perisic angled drive squirm under his body. It was a very visible error from the Italy captain.
Play was temporarily halted for 90 seconds as Croatia fans threw fireworks and smoke bombs on to the pitch. Modric, one of the top stars in his team, pulled up with an upper thigh problem and made way for Inter’s Mateo Kovacic. At the same time, Manuel Pasqual also hobbled away to give Sampdoria’s Roberto Soriano his Italy debut, moving De Sciglio to the left and making Candreva right-wing-back.
Candreva whipped in a cross for Ciro Immobile, who nodded off target under pressure from Darijo Srna. Moments later the Lazio man also set up Mattia De Sciglio for an audacious scuffed volley.
In first half stoppages Buffon was furious he didn’t receive a free kick for a Mario Mandzukic push, so the move continued and Andrea Ranocchia needed a goalline clearance to deny Olic the lead.
Zaza’s snapshot was well saved and Buffon was alert on a Kovacic shin ricochet and Mandzukic header. Stephan El Shaarawy came on for his first Italy appearance since the Confederations Cup semi-final in 2013, moving the Azzurri to a four-man defence.
Croatia were keeping plenty of possession at San Siro, well over 60 per cent, and pinning the Nazionale back. Conte’s final substitution was Southampton hitman Graziano Pellè. El Shaarawy’s curler from outside the box skimmed the crossbar, possibly with fingertips from Subasic.
On 73 minutes play again had to be stopped for the Croatia fans throwing fireworks and even setting fire to something in the stands. After fireworks resumed less than a minute later, referee Kuipers took the teams off the field and riot police waded in.
When the game resumed 10 minutes later, Pellè and El Shaarawy had efforts charged down, the Milan forward with several attempts including one that whistled wide. However, Perisic could’ve completed his brace when left totally unmarked down Italy’s right, flashing an angled drive across the face of goal.
Italy 1-1 Croatia
Scorers: Candreva 11 (I), Perisic 15 (C)
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Ranocchia, Chiellini; De Sciglio, Candreva, De Rossi, Marchisio, Pasqual (Soriano 28); Zaza (Pellè 63), Immobile (El Shaarawy 52)
Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Vida, Pranjic; Brozovic (Badelj 83), Modric (Kovacic 28); Perisic, Rakitic, Olic (Kramaric 68); Mandzukic
Ref: Kuipers (NED)