LUKA MODRIC LEFT IN TEARS AS ITALY BREAK CROATIA HEARTS WITH MATTIA ZACCAGNI STUNNER

Mattia Zaccagni broke Croatian hearts with the last kick of the game to keep Italy's Euro 2024 dream alive.

The second-half substitute had previously never scored for the Azzurri but his mesmerising finish that flew into the top right corner secured his status as a national hero in Leipzig.

Italy were seconds away from defeat and were staring elimination in the face as they would have been reliant on other results to miraculously sneak through in third place. But a moment of sheer, individual brilliance bailed them out at the death and in doing so, shook the Red Bull Arena to its very core.

Croatia, who now require a freak set of results to progress including a 3-0 England win against Slovenia, looked like that had got themselves over the line after Luka Modric fired them ahead on 55 minutes - 30 seconds after missing a penalty.

But in the cruelest of scripts, this may have been the last we see of the 38-year-old Real Madrid magician in a Croatia shirt. He was named man of the match but that counted for precious little as he fought back the tears, while his dejected team-mates struggled to pick themselves off the floor after such a gut-wrenching sucker-punch.

Italy will now play Switzerland in Berlin on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals - even though they have still not beaten Croatia since 1942. This unfortunately feels like the end of a remarkable era for the team that reached the World Cup final in 2018, and finished third four years later in Qatar, after another spirited, valiant effort . Though there fate is yet to be officially confirmed.

Tensions were on a knife edge as darkness descended upon eastern Germany. Beer hurled in frustration by a section of short-tempered Croatian supporters in the upper tier showered the press box as Italy bombarded Dominik Livakovic's smoke-filled goalmouth.

Azzurri defender Riccardo Calafiori's curling cross found Mateo Retegui at the back post but his glancing header deflected narrowly wide of the mark. Nicolo Barella's luscious, right-footed, in-swinging delivery then found centre-back Alessandro Bastoni - totally unmarked - but Fenerbahce shot-stopper Livakovic was equal to his powerful header, showcasing stunning reflexes.

Croatia regrouped swiftly after the interval and the introduction of Osasuna striker Ante Budimir, who hit 17 goals in La Liga this season, helped them to turn the tide as their unlikely qualification hopes dangled by a thread. The back-to-back World Cup semi-finalists were awarded a penalty on 52 minutes when Andrej Kramaric's shot struck the arm of another half-time substitute, Davide Frattesi.

Referee Danny Makkelie pointed to the spot following the intervention of VAR but Modric's spot-kick was parried clear by Gianluigi Donnarumma. Half a minute later, Modric gratefully rifled home inside the box after the Paris Saint-Germain No.1 had made another tremendous close-range stop to deny Budimir.

Italy came roaring back, however, as Luciano Spalletti thrust Federico Chiesa into action and Bastoni was inches away from restoring parity when he headed marginally over the crossbar from a corner. They came within a whisker of levelling with just minutes to play when Chiesa fizzed a ball across the face of goal but Gianluca Scamacca couldn't convert.

Yet there was still time for some unprecedented drama in the dying embers when Calafiori ventured forward before sliding the ball to Lazio star Zaccagni, who curled home with aplomb to seal second spot in Group B and send the Italian bench into raptures. Make no mistakes, this was a goal that will live long in the memory.

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2024-06-24T21:39:25Z dg43tfdfdgfd