Croatia 1-1 Italy (Jun 24, 2024) Game Analysis

Mattia Zaccagni curled home a 98th-minute equaliser as defending champions Italy booked a round-of-16 spot at Euro 2024 on Monday with a 1-1 draw against Croatia, whose tournament hopes were left hanging by a thread.

Italy will next face Switzerland, who finished second in their group after a 1-1 draw with Germany on Sunday.

Luka Modric gave Croatia a 55th-minute lead, moments after missing a penalty, and that looked like sending them through before late substitute Zaccagni bent a stunning finish past the despairing dive of Dominik Livakovic into the far corner.

“It was very stressful, we kept battling until the end,” Modric said after the match. “But football was merciless with us tonight, it was cruel. It is hard when you lose like this to describe how you feel. The football Gods don’t always smile on you, but we need to bounce back.”

The result left Italy second in Group B on four points, with Croatia third but now playing an anxious waiting game to see whether two points will be enough to take them through to the knockout stage as one of the best four third-placed sides.

Spain, who topped the standings, beat Albania 1-0 to finish with a perfect record in their three games and leave the eliminated Albanians rock bottom with one point.

Albania’s loss also propelled sides not in action into the round of 16, with England, France and the Netherlands now guaranteed to finish at least among the four best third-placed teams.

Italy had been rocked with defeat by Spain, which could have been more emphatic than the 1-0 scoreline, yet if there was some solace for Luciano Spalletti’s side heading into Monday’s match, it was that Croatia had been even less impressive in the event.

Italy's Mattia Zaccagni celebrates after scoring a goal against Croatia at Euro 2024.
Italy’s Mattia Zaccagni celebrates after scoring a goal against Croatia at Euro 2024.

“There are things that happen in our matches that are illogical but we need to take what the boys have in their qualities and put them in a position to express themselves at their best,” Spalletti said. “We passed through the group stage with merit. Now we will have a chance to think about the next match [in the last 16].”

The Croats’ 3-0 loss to Spain and 2-2 draw with Albania had left them on the precipice, and one of the main issues that had dogged them at the tournament — how to turn possession into a goal threat — re-emerged in the first half against Italy.

Croatia barely gave the Italians a kick for most of the first 20 minutes, but it was not surprising that they had only Luka Sucic‘s long-range pile-driver, which was parried over by Gianluigi Donnarumma, to show for their efforts.

Italy looked far more purposeful, with Mateo Retegui‘s having a couple of half chances before Alessandro Bastoni had the best opportunity of the first half, meeting Nicolò Barella‘s lofted ball to the far post with a header saved by Livakovic.

However, the second half was only minutes old when Croatia were awarded a penalty. Andrej Kramaric‘s shot struck the outstretched arm of half-time substitute Davide Frattesi, and although referee Danny Makkelie waved play on, the VAR sent him to have a look at the screen and then he swiftly changed his mind.

Modric stepped up to take the spot kick, but his effort was saved brilliantly by Donnarumma low to the keeper’s left, although it was only a momentary reprieve for Italy.

Seconds later, a header by Croatia half-time substitute Ante Budimir drew another superb save from Donnarumma, but Modric was on hand to gobble up the rebound, which he fired into the roof of the net to atone for his penalty miss.

At 38 years, 289 days, Modric became the oldest scorer in European Championship history with the goal, but Croatia’s celebration would be short-lived.

Italy pushed hard for a route back into the game, and substitute Gianluca Scamacca was inches from connecting with a cross in the 87th minute.

However, with Croatia’s fans starting to celebrate what they thought would be a victory, Italy struck that devastating late blow.

“Immense satisfaction, I’m excited, it’s a beautiful evening,” Zaccagni said. “It was important to draw to qualify in second place. We did well to stay in the game with a great second half. We deserved this draw. The coach did well to create this group, we will try to repay him on the pitch.”