Croatia were 2-0 up and dominant, but hit the self-destruct button – as did their fans – to draw 2-2 with the Czech Republic.
This was the first ever competitive meeting between these nations, though in friendlies there was one draw and a 4-2 Croatian victory in 2011.
The Czechs were unlucky to lose 1-0 against Spain in the opener, beaten by a late Gerard Pique header, while a stunning Luka Modric volley gave Croatia the win over Turkey. There was tragedy overshadowing the Croatian team, as this week the fathers of both captain Darijo Srna and goalkeeping Coach Marijan Mrmic died.
Croatia dominated early doors and Ivan Perisic came sliding in just unable to meet a Mario Mandzukic low cross from the left, while Juventus striker Mandzukic had an effort charged down.
Petr Cech used his legs to deny Ivan Rakitic at the near post, but the deadlock was finally broken when Inter’s Ivan Perisic ran on to a Milan Badelj assist and placed the angled drive across the goalkeeper into the far bottom corner.
A free kick found both Vedran Corluka and Domagoj Vida going for the same ball, turning inches wide from eight yards.
The Czech Republic finally had a shot on goal after the restart, Ladislav Krejci’s volley on the turn straight at the ‘keeper.
However, Croatia doubled their lead when Marcelo Brozovic pounced on a defensive error to feed through Ivan Rakitic, beating Cech with a delightful lob.
Mandzukic fired just over the bar by wasting a glorious opportunity and the Czechs got back into the game, substitute Milan Skoda nodding in a Tomas Rosicky cross.
Brozovic’s strike was deflected wide, while he came rushing in at the near post only to be anticipated by David Limbersky.
With four minutes left on the clock, Croatian fans started to throw a dozen flares on to the pitch near Cech’s area, including one that exploded as a steward was trying to clear them. As players appealed for them to stop and play was halted, brawls began to break out between the Croatian ultras in the stands. It was no surprise to Italy fans, as Croatia had a point deducted in qualifying for Euro 2016 due to repeated crowd problems.
The drama wasn’t over, as when play resumed Vida stuck his hand up to punch a cross away for an inevitable penalty. Tomas Necid kept his cool to fire the spot-kick into the roof of the net and complete the comeback in a game that had been incredibly one-sided. It’s also no coincidence their domination slipped once Modric was taken off.
The Czechs seemed more likely to score another in stoppages, but a corner flew just over the head of Josef Sural.
Czech Rep 2-2 Croatia
Perisic 37 (Cr), Rakitic 59 (Cr), Skoda 76 (Cz), Necid pen 94 (Cz)
Czech Rep: Czech; Kaderabek, Hubnik, Sivok, Limbersky; Plasil (Necid 85); Rosicky, Skalak (Sural 67), Krejci, Darida; Lafata (Skoda 67)
Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Vida, Strinic (Vrsaljko 97); Badelj, Modric (Kovacic 62); Brozovic, Rakitic (Schildenfeld 96), Perisic; Mandzukic
Ref: Clattenburg (ENG)