Scotland 1 Croatia 1: Scotland show spirit to kick-start Burley era with welcome draw

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The Independent Online

Devoid of star names but never low on fighting spirit, George Burley's team achieved something on his Scotland managerial debut that England famously failed to do in Euro 2008 qualifying: they bagged a home draw against a strong Croatia. Behind to Nico Kranjcar's stylish early goal, Scotland took a share of the spoils with a well taken equaliser from Derby's Kenny Miller and almost snatched a late winner.

On a line of form via the Croats and France, Scotland can claim – tongues only partially in cheeks – to be Britain's finest right now. They beat France twice in Euro 2008 qualifying and avoided defeat to a Croatia XI similar to the one that twice beat England.

"We had to work hard, but we showed character," Burley said. "I was pleased with the goal, we made other chances and, against one of the top teams in Europe, our attitude and commitment was excellent."

Slaven Bilic, the Croatia manager, said: "It was a great test for us. We didn't want an easy game and Scotland gave us a competitive match. I admire them as a team."

Seven late withdrawals had limited Burley's options, with five Old Firm players (four from Rangers) pulling out ahead of Saturday's Glasgow derby. But he was true to his pre-match word in his attacking intent. Miller was the spearhead in a 4-3-3 formation, and, though in practice this was more often a 4-5-1, the wide men up front, Shaun Maloney and the debutant Steven Fletcher, had instructions to bomb forward as appropriate.

But it was Croatia, the more fluid and more offensive, who took a 10th-minute lead. From a throw-in, Luka Modric, the prime creator in Bilic's midfield, spotted Nico Kranjcar in space on the edge of the area. Modric passed the ball behind the Portsmouth midfielder, who tracked it over his shoulder, spun smoothly on to it as it slid past and hit it with lift and power past Craig Gordon.

Tottenham's Alan Hutton and Maloney combined repeatedly to try to carve an opening down the right, but it took 20 minutes for Scotland to make a chance. Miller chased a lofted long ball, which Robert Kovac should have intercepted, and moved forward to meet it at the corner of the box. He powered on, tightening his angle, before unleashing a shot that caught Josip Simunic on its way home.

Miller threatened again after the break, meeting Maloney's corner with a near-post header, cleared off the line by Danijel Pranjic. Gary Caldwell then kept the scores level with a saving tackle as Ivika Olic shaped to shoot.

Burley and Bilic rang multiple changes around the hour, which did little for the game's coherence. But a surging run by Hutton, followed by a dinky lay-off to Kris Boyd, gave the hosts a late chance. Stipe Pletikosa made a fine save.

Scotland (4-3-3): Gordon (Sunderland); Hutton (Tottenham), Caldwell (Celtic), McManus (Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United); Brown (Celtic), D Fletcher (Manchester United), Hartley (Celtic); Maloney (Aston Villa), Miller (Derby), S Fletcher (Hibernian). Substitutes used: Rae (Cardiff) for Fletcher, 46; McEveley (Blackburn) for Naysmith, 62; Teale (Derby) for S Brown, 66; Anderson (Aberdeen) for Caldwell, 70; Boyd (Rangers) for Maloney, 72; Alexander (Burnley) for D Fletcher, 90.

Croatia (4-4-2): Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow); Corluka (Manchester City), R Kovac (Borussia Dortmund), Simunic (Hertha Berlin), Pranjic (Heerenveen); Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), N Kovac (Salzburg), Modric (D Zagreb), Kranjcar (Portsmouth); Petric (Borussia Dortmund), Olic (Hamburg). Substitutes used: Vukojevic (Dynamo Zagreb) for N Kovac, 46; Budan (Parma) for Olic, 58; Klasnic for Petric, 58; Leko (Monaco) for Srna, 63; Knezevic (Livorno) for R Kovac, 72; Simic (Milan) for Corluka, 85.

Referee: T Hauge (Norway).

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