Croatia vs Italy 1-1: Last-Minute Zaccagni Strike Keeps Title Defense Alive

At the Reb Bull Arena in Leipzig, Croatia and Italy locked horns for their final group-stage fixtures in Euro 2024, with both sides needing a positive result. The Balkan side were on the cusp of qualification to the Round of 16 thanks to Luka Modric’s opener, but Mattia Zaccagni came off the bench to save the day for the Azzurri with a wonderful last-gasp goal.

Starting Lineups

Zlatko Dalic adopted a 4-3-3 lineup spearheaded by Andrej Kramaric with Luka Susic and Mario Pasalic on the wings. The legendary Modric led a star-studded midfield that also comprised Marcelo Brozovic and Matteo Kovacic.

After being hammered from Spain, Luciano Spalletti gave up some creativity and resorted to a more solid, pragmatic formation, reverting back to a 3-5-2 lineup.

Matteo Darmian joined Alessandro Bastoni and Riccardo Calafiori in the back-three, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Federico Dimarco operating as wingbacks. The latter made a swift recovery from injury to make himself available for the big title. Spalletti then placed Lorenzo Pellegrini next to Jorginho and Nicolò Barella in the middle of the park.

Davide Frattesi, Federico Chiesa and Gianluca Scamacca were all dropped to the bench following their uninspiring showing against La Furia Roja. Instead, it was Mateo Retegui who led the line alongside Giacomo Raspadori.

Croatia & Italy Trade Blows in Goalless First Half

Croatia started the match on the right foot and the lion share’s of possession. They had the first big chance of the match in the 6th minute, but Susic’s long-range effort was denied by an acrobatic save from Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Nevertheless, the Azzurri slowly but surely came to their own. With the goal at his mercy, Retegui should have hit the target when Calafiori fed him with a sublime cross, but his header whistled past the post.

However, the biggest moment of the first half ensued Barella picked up his Inter teammate Bastoni with an exquisite cross, but the latter’s header was denied by a sensational save from Dominik Livakovic. Therefore, the two sides headed to dressing rooms on level terms following a goalless first half.

Modric Redemption

After the break, Davide Frattesi’s handball gifted Croatia a spot-kick. Nonetheless, Donnarumma won his duel against Modric.

Yet, the Croatians still found the breakthrough less than a minute later despite another brilliant save from the PSG goalkeeper, as Modric was there to pounce on the rebound and redeem himself in the process.

Dramatic Finish

Spalletti’s men had a flurry of chances to equalize but appeared unable to hit the back of the net. But just when they looked to be staring defeat in the face, Calafiori made a daring run in the middle before teeing up Zaccagni who emerged as the ultimate super-sub with a fabulous curling shot that found the far corner, thus gifting the Italians an invaluable draw.

So at the end of the day, Italy finished the group in second place with four points behind Spain who earned the top mark with a win over Albania, while Croatia will need a miracle to qualify as one of the best third-place sides.

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