It was a year ago last May when I flew into Pula Airport and took the bus south to Rijeka, Croatia's 3rd city after Zagreb and Split, for the opening double header of the UEFA u17s tournament. I left my wheelie bag at the bus station and took the local bus to the stadium about 4km away.
Unfortunately I got off too early and walked down some steep, narrow streets until I came to a dirt and gravel path more suited to mountain goats than humans and slid in parts until arriving at the training pitches next to the HNK Stadion Rujevica, new home of the local club with an 8,000 seated capacity. Its the 2nd biggest stadium in town after the beautifully located Kantrida Stadion which will be demolished and replaced by a 14,500 all seater under cover stadium on the shore of the Adriatic. It will be a Category 4 UEFA stadium designed by the same architect responsible of the new Juventus Stadium.
Last night about 3 dozen hardy England fans took the same treck as I did and chanted ENG-ER-LUND, ENG-ER-LUND and managed to get goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to give them a wave in the far goal in the second half, with the near goal obscured.
The Croation federation were being punished by an empty stadium for the third time after a nazi symbol was etched into the pitch at Split, fighting in the stands on a visit to Milan and more. The federation still received a considerable fee from SKY SPORTs and besides stadium workers, on duty polic,e 75 maximum per delegation including players and coaches, UEFA officials and about 200 corporate fat cats, the stands were empty. I am not sure what happened to the under 10 year old greeters after they accompanied the players onto the pitch, or to their parents? Maybe they all went home to bed.
It was the 988th full international for THE THREE LIONS, and the first in an empty stadium.and 91 days since a packed house at the World Cup semi final in Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium and a 2-1 loss.
SANCHO, now plying his trade with the first team at Borussia Dortmund, is the first player born in this millenium to play for England. He replaced Sterling,with 12 minutes left, who had his debut at 17 but has rarely matched his Man City club form since at the international level. Sancho impressed in the short time remaining with his speed and composure. Newcomer Ben Chilwell of Leicester City started and had a successful debut. Henderson and Stones are ruled out of next Monday's match in Seville after getting their 2nd yellow cards in two competitive matches. There will be 60,000 fans there.
Marcus Radford screwed up two shots on goal and might also make way in Spain. Spain beat England 2-1 at Wembley and thrashed World Cup finalists Croatia 6-0.