Croatia 1 Italy 1: Zaccagni scores dramatic 98th-minute equaliser to secure last 16 spot and break Modric & Co’s hearts

Croatia 1 Italy 1: Zaccagni scores dramatic 98th-minute equaliser to secure last 16 spot and break Modric & Co’s hearts

ITALY crushed Croatian hearts with a dramatic late leveller in Leipzig to regain a Euros last 16 spot.

The Azzurri looked to have surrendered second place in Group B after Croat pensioner Luka Modric scored in the 55th minute – seconds after missing a penalty.

ReutersMattia Zaccagni celebrates his winner[/caption]

EPAItaly looked to be down and out[/caption]

ReutersThe goal that won it for Italy was a beauty[/caption]

But in the dying moments, Mattia Zaccagni curled in a 98th-minute beauty to ensure the reigning European champions will play Switzerland in the knockout stage.

As for Croatia, unbelievable heartbreak. They are not mathematically out, but it is incredibly unlikely that they will make it through as a ranked third-place side on two points.

What a way for Modric to potentially end his international career on his 178th appearance having become the oldest scorer at a Euros at 38 years and 289 days.

But Croatia can hardly complain. The World Cup finalists from 2018 had been woeful in their opening two outings – smashed by Spain before conceding a late leveller to Albania – and not a lot better here, much to boss Zlatko Dalic’s dismay.

The ultimate major tournament warriors came agonisingly close to proving everyone wrong yet again only to fall at the final hurdle having given their all to hang on.

ReutersLuka Modric celebrates his strike[/caption]

ReutersCroatia went wild after taking the lead[/caption]

APModric fires past Gianluigi Donnarumma[/caption]

Dalic made four changes, including two of his back four – unsurprising given his men had already shipped five goals in two games in Germany.

Luciano Spalletti also pulled out a few surprises with his team selection, switching to a three at the back, as well as dropping forwards Federico Chiesa and Gianluca Scamacca.

The former Napoli boss was clearly still irked by his side’s 1-0 loss to Spain last week, intent on giving his squad a chance to right some wrongs.

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It looked like that decision could backfire in the opening 15 minutes.

Italy barely got a sniff such was Croatia’s dominance and control on the ball from back to front.

WOW!

Mattia Zaccagni equalises right at the death for Italy who now qualify through to the round of 16! #BBCEuros #Euro2024 #CROITA pic.twitter.com/MyNiDgoCmE

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 24, 2024

From ZERO to HERO in just 33 seconds! #BBCEuros #Euro2024 #CROITA pic.twitter.com/RzBImOxvHq

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 24, 2024

And yet, other than a 25-yard belter from Luka Sucic that was tipped over by Gianluigi Donnarumma, they still lacked a real goal threat.

As a result, the Azzurri gained confidence, carving out some chances of their own as Mateo Retegui headed just wide and had a volley blocked.

Nicolo Barella’s beautiful dink towards the back post then found an unmarked Alessandro Bastoni in the 27th minute.

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GettyLuka Modric saw his penalty saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma[/caption]

ReutersIt could be Modric’s last game for Croatia[/caption]

The header from the Inter Milan defender was straight at Dominik Livakovic, producing a stunning reaction stop that left several Italian players on their knees.

Croatia rallied through who else than Modric, finding space in the box and forcing Donnarumma to palm away a dangerous low cross.

The little Croat magician was trying his best to conjure something up for his beloved nation on his 178th appearance, but those around him lacked any sort of spark or belief.

Heading into the break, Italy looked comfortable. Croatia looked resigned to their fate.

What they needed was a helping hand, and that’s literally what they got in the 52nd minute as Davide Frattesi – who was subbed on at half-time – appeared to block a cross with an outstretched arm.

Luka Modric rolled back the years against Italy but it was not enough

Play continued before VAR advised Dutch referee Danny Makkelie to go to the monitor. He was not there long before pointing to the spot.

There was no question who was going to take it, that was until he missed – Modric’s tame spot-kick easily saved by Donnarumma down to his right.

But the Italian No1 barely had time to catch his breath before watching Modric fire into the top corner in the 55th minute, having just got down to deny Ante Budimir from a cross.

Croatia looked to have withstood all the might of Italy, only to fall asleep during a late counter attack in injury time and Livakovic had no chance to stop his net from rippling.

Match Stats

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