Outsiders Croatia and Switzerland played out a tense goalless draw in Leiria in the first game of UEFA EURO 2004 Group B.
In a fiercely contested encounter, Croatia had the technical edge, but were thwarted by a determined, solid effort from Switzerland, who spent the majority of the second period with ten men after Johann Vogel was dismissed for a second bookable offence five minutes after half-time.
Switzerland coach Jakob Kuhn fielded a full-strength lineup with midfield anchor Vogel recovered from a thigh injury, while Croatia were without goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, who is out of the tournament with a torn thigh muscle. Tomislav Butina deputised and Tomislav Šokota partnered Dado Pršo up front.
Croatia made the running in a frenetic opening, and Nenad Bjelica had an early chance with a free-kick, but his curling effort went straight into the arms of Swiss keeper Jörg Stiel. Tackles flew in thick and fast and Vogel was cautioned for a trip on Šokota as Croatia moved forward with pace and purpose, Ivica Mornar heading a corner just wide.
Switzerland finally broke out to create a first chance of their own soon after, Butina beating out a fierce angled drive from Alexander Frei and there were gradual signs that Kuhn's men were warming to their task. Full-back Bernt Haas then sent a header past the post from Hakan Yakin's inswinging corner.
Back came Croatia. Pršo swivelled and shot into Stiel's arms, and Šokota fired well wide as both sides struggled to establish a grip amid searing heat. With neither team wanting to lose with tough group assignments against England and holders France ahead, space and time on the ball was at a premium, but Croatia went desperately close to an opener after 36 minutes when Niko Kovač headed narrowly over the bar from a corner.
Stiel then made a fine reflex save to claw out Josip Šimunić's free header as Switzerland's offside trap failed from a free-kick, Ivica Olić heading the rebound on to the crossbar and over. Niko Kovač then shot just too high as Croatia ended the first 45 minutes on top.
Croatia coach Otto Barić made a half-time substitution, Milan Rapaić replacing Olić on the left of midfield. The second half began disastrously for Switzerland, as Vogel was shown a second yellow card after tripping Šokota. Kuhn brought on Fabio Celestini for Stéphane Chapuisat to reinforce his midfield; Barić introduced Darijo Srna for Šimunić to provide width on the right.
The pattern of play changed and Croatia began enjoying the bulk of possession even if Switzerland continued to battle gamely, and Butina saved a Hakan Yakin free-kick. At the other end, Šokota shot over and with Barić eager to exploit his team's extra man, Giovanni Rosso came on for Bjelica. Still Switzerland held firm, and Hakan Yakin sent a 30-metre free-kick over.
Indeed, they came desperately close to breaking the deadlock in the final stages as Benjamin Huggel's long-range drive was fumbled away for a corner by Butina. Ultimately, however, both sides had to settle for a point.
©UEFA.com 1998-2011. All rights reserved.