Substitute Andrej Kramarić converted a late penalty to deny France the three points in Split.
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Croatia put in a much-improved performance to prevent France from snaring all three points in this UEFA Nations League Group A1 encounter.
52' Rabiot finishes off neat France move
83' Clauss brings down Kramarić in area
83' Kramarić converts spot kick
Match in brief: Croatia leave it late to deny France
Both sides were reeling from Matchday 1 defeats and that produced a cagey opening to the game. However, with France coach Didier Deschamps making ten changes following his team's loss to Denmark, it was no surprise that it was the hosts who ultimately carved out the first real opportunity.
Mateo Kovačić's through ball split the French defence, though Ante Budimir's first touch forced him slightly wide and his eventual shot was straight at goalkeeper Mike Maignan. Les Bleus then grew into the match as the half wore on, and both Moussa Diaby and Aurélien Tchouameni forced saves from home goalkeeper Dominik Livaković in just under a minute as the interval approached.
Croatia started brightly after the restart, but it was Les Bleus who opened the scoring with a well-worked team goal. Adrien Rabiot and Wissam Ben Yedder exchanged passes just inside the Croatia half, with the Juventus midfielder outpacing Josip Juranović down the flank and expertly picking his spot with a cool left-footed finish.
In response, Croatia captain Luka Modrić attempted to mark his 150th appearance for the national side with the equaliser, but Maignan was equal to the Real Madrid midfielder's curling effort.
Nevertheless, just when it appeared that time was running out for Zlatko Dalić's charges, Jonathan Clauss – only just on as a substitute – sent fellow replacement Kramarić tumbling in the box, and the Hoffenheim forward kept his cool to slot home the resultant spot kick, sending Maignan the wrong way.
There were chances to win it in the closing stages for both teams, but neither Antoine Griezmann nor Luka Sučić were able to find the target.
Elvir Islamović, match reporter
France avoided a scenario similar to Denmark's comeback victory on Matchday 1, with Les Bleus defending doggedly in the final minutes to avoid defeat against Croatia. The home side were much improved against the reigning champions compared to their performance against Austria last Friday. They showed that loss was just a bad day at the office and the late goal must have brought satisfaction to Dalić and joy to the fans.
Andrej Kramarić, Croatia forward: "We clinched a draw against the world champions. It's too bad we weren't able to use the energy generated in the stadium in the final ten minutes. This draw is big, but it's too bad we didn't manage to beat France."
Luka Modrić, Croatia captain: "It was a phenomenal feeling. I am happy and proud of my 150th match for Croatia. Thankfully we didn't lose and we can be satisfied with our performance. We were rewarded with the goal at the end and we need to continue like that in the hope of some more points."
Zlatko Dalić, Croatia coach: "Our boys showed their character and secured the draw. Maybe they could have got even more. The players are giving everything for Croatia and they showed that again."
Didier Deschamps, France coach: "I am mostly satisfied but not completely. We could have doubled our lead but at the end we conceded and failed to seal the victory. But the result is satisfying."
- Rabiot netted just his second France goal.
- The Juventus midfielder has scored in two of his last three competitive starts for Les Bleus.
- France have scored in each of their last 22 internationals.
- Croatia are still searching for the first-ever win against France, with this their ninth meeting.
- Kramarić has struck five times in his last seven Croatia outings.
- Prior to this game, Les Bleus had won each of their last five Nations League matches outside of France.
- France began a competitive international without Griezmann in the starting XI for the first time since June 2016.
Croatia: Livaković; Juranović, Erlić, Vida, Barišić; Brozović; Modrić (Sučić 79), Kovačić (Vlašić 79); Majer (Pašalić 63), Budimir (Kramarić 69), Brekalo (Oršić 63)
France: Maignan; Pavard, Saliba, Kimpembe, Digne; Guendouzi, Tchouameni (Kamara 62); Diaby (Clauss 79), Nkunku, Rabiot; Ben Yedder (Griezmann 62)
What happens after the UEFA Nations League group stage?
The four group winners in League A will advance to the knockout finals with, in principle, one appointed as hosts. The semi-finals will be played on 14 and 15 June 2023, with the final and third-place play-off to follow on 18 June.
The teams finishing fourth in the groups in Leagues A will be relegated to League B for the 2024/25 edition.