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Croatia hold France to surprise 2-2 draw
Updated: 2004-06-18 09:00

Croatia have given France an almighty scare, holding the shaky-looking champions to a 2-2 draw in an explosive Euro 2004 match, another surprise result that leaves Group B wide open.

An own goal by Igor Tudor midway through the first half seemed to have France on course for the quarter-finals but French defensive frailties allowed the outsiders to snatch two goals in four minutes early in the second.

France's David Trezeguet (Top) celebrates with team-mate Sylvain Wiltord after scoring a goal to equalise 2-2 during their Group B Euro 2004 soccer match against Croatia at the Magalhaes Pessoa stadium in Leiria, June 17, 2004. [Reuters]

A Milan Rapaic penalty and a shot by Dado Prso had the holders running scared and they needed David Trezeguet's 64th-minute goal to set up a tense final round of fixtures on June 21.

France lead the Group B standings with four points. England, who beat Switzerland 3-0 earlier on Thursday have three, Croatia have two and the Swiss one.

Switzerland's Jorg Stiel fails to stop a shot by England's Steven Gerrard during their Group B Euro 2004 soccer match at the Cidade de Coimbra Stadium in Coimbra, June 17, 2004. [Reuters]

France play Switzerland in the final round, needing just a draw to advance. England play Croatia, also needing a point, but Croatia and Switzerland could still qualify with wins.

"We've seen that in football things can quickly change," said France coach Jacques Santini. "Against England, we scored two quick goals. Today it was the Croats who did it to us. We can't repeat these moments of weakness if we want to go far."

France's goalkeeper Fabien Barthez looks down after Croatia scored their second goal during their Group B Euro 2004 soccer match at the Magalhaes Pessoa stadium in Leiria, June 17, 2004. [Reuters]

Santini had recalled captain Marcel Desailly to his defence, which had an unfamiliar look with Mikael Silvestre moving to left back and Bixente Lizarazu rested.

However, the chosen quartet were barely tested in a low-key first half, with the 22nd-minute goal the only notable action.

Deflected goal

Zinedine Zidane, who struck both goals in France's 2-1 comeback win over England on Sunday, curled a free kick from wide on the left that took a slight deflection off recalled defender Tudor and left keeper Tomislav Butina wrong-footed.

France jogged off the field halfway to achieving their target of a second win to guarantee qualification but within seven minutes of the restart they were trailing.

The equaliser came three minutes into the second half after Silvestre bundled over Dovani Rossi in the area. French keeper Fabien Barthez had saved England captain David Beckham's penalty on Sunday but had no chance with Rapaic's blasted effort.

The massed hordes of red and white checked Croatian fans erupted to acclaim their first goal of the tournament and four minutes later they took the roof off to celebrate the second.

Prso thought he had lost possession after hooking the ball over the head of Silvestre but a clumsy, miscued clearance by Desailly returned it to him and the striker took full advantage by lashing the ball past a helpless Barthez.

France, who had scored twice in three minutes to beat England on Sunday, were stunned but quickly collected themselves and drew level with a hotly-disputed goal.

Trezeguet charged down a Butina clearance, the ball hitting his arm, before slotting into the empty net from a tight angle.

The Croatian players complained bitterly to Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen but the goal stood.

"My feeling is that the referees in this tournament are protecting the stronger teams a little bit," Croatia coach Otto Baric said.

France then went for the win, sending on Robert Pires for the rusty-looking Sylvain Wiltord but they could not find a way through and came close to losing the game in injury time.

Niko Kovac got behind the by-now ragged French defence to cross low for Ivica Mornar but the substitute striker somehow struck his close-range shot over the bar.

Croatia had lost the teams' three previous meetings, including the 1998 World Cup semi-final and at the whistle their fans celebrated as if they had already won the title.

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