Battling Croatia rattle holders France in EURO 2004 Group B

Croatia 2-2 France
Two Croatian goals in four second-half minutes unsettled France in a pulsating Group B encounter.

Milan Rapaić (No7) celebrates his goal against France with team-mates
Milan Rapaić (No7) celebrates his goal against France with team-mates ©Getty Images

Holders France shared four goals with Croatia in a pulsating UEFA EURO 2004 Group B encounter in Leiria.

Les Bleus led at half-time through an Igor Tudor own goal and were full value for their advantage. But two goals in four minutes after the interval – a Milan Rapaić penalty and Dado Pršo's superb volley – brought a tremendous Croatia fightback before David Trezeguet's strike after the hour earned France a point.

EURO 2004: All you need to know

Croatia made three changes from the side held 0-0 by Switzerland in their opening game; Tudor, Rapaić and Giovanni Rosso coming into the side. France, meanwhile, introduced Marcel Desailly, Sylvain Wiltord and Olivier Dacourt following Sunday's incredible last-gasp success against England.

Thierry Henry was a livewire prospect in the opening stages as France dominated possession, and the Arsenal FC striker shot wide with the game's first chance on six minutes. Zinédine Zidane then saw a free-kick blocked by the wall and Wiltord blasted wide as Les Bleus kept up the momentum. It took Croatia 15 minutes to get a sight of goal, but Tomislav Šokota's weak shot posed no problem for Fabien Barthez.

A period of Croatia promise followed as the Balkan side settled down after a nervy start, but France grabbed a deserved lead on 22 minutes. Zidane curled in a left-wing free-kick and the ball deflected in off Tudor for an unfortunate own goal.

Best goals of EURO 2004
Best goals of EURO 2004

Zidane flashed a shot wide from a similar position before Rosso drove over the bar from 20 metres as Croatia sought to respond. Nevertheless, France, and Zidane in particular, were running the show in midfield, and it took two defenders to desperately deny Wiltord in a goalmouth skirmish.

Patrick Vieira was booked for tripping Niko Kovač after 32 minutes, and Croatia central defender Tudor was cautioned for a clumsy challenge on Vieira as he burst towards goal. William Gallas then headed just wide as the French ran the show up to the interval.

The second half began in sensational fashion with two Croatia goals inside the first seven minutes, Otto Barić's team turning the match on its head. Mikaël Silvestre, who had conceded a penalty against England, was adjudged to have tripped Rosso in the 48th minute and Rapaić levelled with an unstoppable spot kick.

Soon Croatia were in front, as Pršo bustled into the area and punished some flimsy defending by hammering a fierce left-foot drive past Barthez. France, so comfortable in the first half, were rocked, but soon recovered their poise and goalkeeper Tomislav Butina got down smartly to deny Henry. France hauled themselves level on 64 minutes as a Tudor back pass fell short, Butina's clearance rebounded off the onrushing Trezeguet, and the Juventus striker rolled the ball into the empty net with an angled finish.

A pulsating second half ebbed and flowed, and France began to take control again as the final stages approached, but Croatia defended stoutly and looked to pounce on the counterattack. Butina was forced into diving stops from substitute Robert Pirès and Henry in the closing stages but it was Croatia who came closest to taking maximum points, replacement Ivica Mornar shooting agonisingly over from close range in added time.

EURO 2004: Team of the Tournament

Lineups

Croatia's substitutes stand for their national anthem
Croatia's substitutes stand for their national anthemBongarts/Getty Images

Croatia: Butina; Šimunić, Robert Kovač, Tudor, Šimić (c); Rapaić (Mornar 87), Bjelica (Leko 68), Niko Kovač, Roso ; Šokota (Olić 73), Pršo
Substitutes: Vasilj, Didulica, Tokić, Tomas, Živković, Srna, Neretljak, Babić, Klasnić
Coach: Otto Barić

France: Barthez; Silvestre, Desailly (c), Thuram, Gallas (Sagnol 81); Zidane, Vieira, Dacourt (Pedretti 79), Wiltord (Pirès 70); Henry, Trezeguet
Substitutes: Landreau, Coupet, Boumsong, Lizarazu, Makelele, Saha, Rothen, Marlet, Govou
Coach: Jacques Santini

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)

Man of the Match: Dado Pršo (Croatia)

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