ZACCAGNI CHANNELS DEL PIERO FOR ITALY’S LAST GASP EQUALISER AND BREAKS MODRIC’S HEART

Luka Modric stood in the dug out, biting nervously on his shirt, an anxious look on his face as the game entered the eighth and final minute of stoppage time. He had done his bit and now all he could do was stand and watch and hope – pray – Croatia could see through the job.

The great man had momentarily faltered himself. His penalty early in the second half had been saved by Italy’s titan of a goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma but, within 33 seconds, he had reminded everyone that there was plenty of life in the old dog yet.

Thrashing in a rebound, 10 weeks before he turns 39, Modric became the oldest goalscorer in the 64-year history of the European Championship on appearance No 178 for Croatia, 18 years after his first outing for his country.

But now, having been substituted with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, he was powerless to do anything but watch, a knot in his stomach like the rest of Croatia’s supporters in the stands and back home. And then it happened. The moment he feared. The moment all of Croatia feared.

It all started with Riccardo Calafiori, Italy’s centre-back channelling his inner Beckenbauer to rip through the middle of the pitch with the sort of unforgettable run he will seldom tire of watching back. There was the briefest interlude to exchange a quick-fire one-two and then he was off again, surging to the edge of the D before slipping a pass through to Mattia Zaccagni, in acres of space wide to his left. The ball was set up enticingly to be hit first time and the Lazio forward did just that, opening up his body to create the perfect angle to sweep a curling finish into the top corner, shades of Alessandro del Piero against Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final. “Alex was my idol,” Zaccagni said later. “I had his poster in my room. We saw each other before leaving for the Euros and then we spoke again in recent days, too. It was so exciting.”

In the blink of an eye, Croatia and Italy had traded places, the defending European champions sneaking into the last 16, where they will face Switzerland in Berlin on Saturday, while Modric and co were left with an anxious wait to discover what the third-place lottery throws their way. In all truth, they are probably heading home, Zlatko Dalic’s side needing an unlikely combination of results to go their way to prolong their stay in Germany.

Modric’s eyes told their own story. You could almost see right through them as he posed for pictures with the man-of-the-match award, the most vacant expression etched on his face. “I don’t know what to tell you, football is sometimes cruel,” he said. “It has been shown again, but well, what is there is there. We didn’t deserve this goal. We’re sorry that it wasn’t that victory to go to the next round.”

Midfielder Luka Ivanusec said he felt “empty” and that just about summed up Croatia’s emotions. For Italy, this was a reprieve. They had chances, Alessandro Bastoni missing two excellent headed chances and Gianluca Scamacca narrowly failed to poke home a finish from Mateo Retegui’s wonderful low cross but this is not a vintage Italy and Switzerland may fancy their chances.

Luciano Spalletti, the Italy coach, got the hump with some of the questions that came his way afterwards and it is clear he seems to be feeling the pressure. “I want to do my job well and don’t want to load up on the additional pressure people are putting on my shoulders,” he rapped. “I feel like there is venom coming from all sides. If I was afraid, I would have gone and done another job. It’s only natural there is pressure and responsibility – you can’t have fear of losing before the match!”

In fairness to Spalletti, his substitutes did make a difference but this was another occasion when they were indebted to the brilliance of their goalkeeper. Only Donnarumma stood between Italy and a landslide of Spain goals in their 1-0 defeat in Gelsenkirchen last Thursday and his contribution was immense again here. After a turgid first half when Bastoni squandered the best chance, heading too close to the goalkeeper from a fine cross from Nicolo Barella, the game burst into life after the interval. The introduction of Ante Budimir brought some much needed impetus to Croatia’s attack and before too long they were in front – in a dramatic, roundabout kind of way.

When Davide Frattesi handled Andrej Kramaric’s shot, referee Danny Makkelie was referred to the pitchside monitor by the VAR and, inevitably, awarded a stonewall penalty. Step forward Modric to take the spot-kick, knowing he was facing a penalty saving specialist in Donnarumma and so it would prove. Italy’s goalkeeper guessed right, diving down to his left to keep out the fifth of the last seven penalties he has faced at the Euros, including shoot-outs.

A reprieve for Italy, just not for long. Barely half a minute later, Luka Sucic swung in a menacing cross and there was Budimir to meet it with a crisp volley. Donnarumma made a fine instinctive save to keep it out but could only spill the ball into the path of Modric to rifle the rebound into the roof of the net.

It looked like being the game’s decisive moment. But Zaccagni had other ideas.

Croatia 1 Italy 1: as it happened . . .

10:44 PM BST

Congratulations Italy

I was going to say they got themselves out of jail but in truth the tournament format means they would most likely have gone through anyway. But still: they absolutely are going through now, and they’ll play the Swiss on Saturday. Hard to see them really doing much in the tournament, disorganised at the back, lumpen in midfield, timid up top, a pale imitation of previous vintages although I guess you never know. One moment of quality, from Zaccagni, was enough to get what they needed tonight.

Croatia’s old guard looked to have done the business but for a team with so much international experience, maybe they could have seen it out better. All in all, an exciting end to a meh game, the first half was dire, improved after the break but as with several of the teams we have seen this tournament, nothing much here to frighten the real Spain/France/Germany contenders. Thanks for following with us, from me Alan Tyers, and from James Ducker and John Percy, goodnight.

10:43 PM BST

“Modric’s worst fears realised in dramatic finale”

10:29 PM BST

Here is how the group finished

10:07 PM BST

What does it mean for third place jiggery-pokery?

Think that’s all good news for England by the way...

Croatia are currently fifth best of the six third placed teams as it stands. If England thump Slovenia I guess the Croatians go above them on goal difference.

09:59 PM BST

Full time: Croatia 1 Italy 1

What a conclusion! The Croatia guys slump to the turf, Italy jubilant. One of their coaches booked for over-celebrating. Sensational finish, both the strike and the significance. 

The upshot? Italy are second on four points. Spain beat Albania 1-0 and top the group on 9 points. Poor old Croatia stuck on two points. Good news for some other third finishers I guess.

Bad game management from the Croatians at the end, they were still playing at high tempo, giving away loads of fouls. Just show it down.

09:58 PM BST

GOAL! Croatia 1 Italy 1 (Zaccagni 90+7)

Ha ha ha ha ha. Not sure if Italy deserve it but my God what a finish. Modric looks bereft on the bench, as well he might. 

Italy finally find some inspiration as Calafiori drives forward, manages to just keep control  of the ball and he slips it to Mattia Zaccagni who curls a gorgeous shot past the keeper and it’s 1-1!

09:56 PM BST

90+ mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Italy absolutely abject at the moment, booting long balls. Can we not knock it? Hit Lesiolo!

09:55 PM BST

90+ mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Game scrappy, Italy frantic and Croatia resolute. Fagioli fouls and is booked.

09:54 PM BST

Coach there looking like a chugger

trying to get someone to sign up to Save The Cardigans.

09:52 PM BST

90+ mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Calafiori the next man to get booked as he fouls to stop a counter.

09:50 PM BST

90+ mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Scamacca runs and shoots. Deflected behind for a corner.

09:50 PM BST

90+ mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Brozovic the latest Croatian to stop an attack by fair means or foul. Well, foul. He’s chopped down a runner and been booked.

09:49 PM BST

90 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

There will be eight minutes added.

09:46 PM BST

87 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

That’s a better move from Italy. Hard low cross from Retegui but Scamacca can’t apply the final touch.

09:44 PM BST

86 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Chiesa has it down the right. Where’s the movement?

09:43 PM BST

82 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Zaccagni and Fagioli the men on there. The former is immediately walloped by Stanišić, who gets a booking.

Huge gap in the Italy central defence that could easily have been breached. Dear me.

09:40 PM BST

80 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Modric is coming off to, as you’d expect, rapturous Croatian applause. Majer is on.

For Italy, Darmian and Jorginho are off. Two nondescript performances. This Italy side don’t look fit to lace the boots of some previous vintages.

09:39 PM BST

79 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Brozovic gets down the flank and slings in a dangerous cross. Bastoni with a timely defensive intervention.

09:37 PM BST

78 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

09:36 PM BST

77 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Pongračić rugby tackles and Italian runner and is booked.

09:31 PM BST

72 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Resultant corner cleared.

09:31 PM BST

71 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Italy have a freekick, central, ten yards outside the Croatia box. Raspadori. It’s deflected off the wall for a corner.

09:29 PM BST

70 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Kovacic coming off. Perisic on. Interesting sub for a team looking to hold a 1-0. Luka Sučić, booked and  also anonymous, is coming off for Luka Ivanušec.

09:28 PM BST

Italians not to be feared

While much of the focus here has been on Luka Modric and Croatia’s hopes of going deeper into the tournament, Italy are facing a nervy half-hour.

They look well organised, and have a shrewd manager in Luciano Spalletti, yet have hardly set the pulses racing at Euro 2024 so far.

Even if they lose this and fortuitously reach the knockout stages, Italy are not to be feared on this evidence. 

09:27 PM BST

68 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Italy having a right good go. As well they might, because third place with three points would be a precarious position.

09:27 PM BST

67 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Turning into an enjoyable second half. Darmian down the left I mentioned, and now Frattesi is asking a lot of questions down the right. Wins a corner. Cleared.

09:25 PM BST

65 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Darmian is getting a lot of space out there on the left but doesn’t look comfortable using his left foot. Well, he isn’t. Tries an effort with his right.

09:23 PM BST

Croatia fans

are pelting, erm, other Croatia fans.

09:20 PM BST

61 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Wow - Bastoni again! Rises powerfully in the box but he has headed over.

09:20 PM BST

59 mins: Croatia 1 Italy 0

Modric catches Fratesi.

Federico Chiesa has replaced Federico Dimarco.

09:18 PM BST

What must Scotland be thinking?

Penny for the thoughts of Steve Clarke.

Scotland’s manager was seething after a clear penalty in the final stages of their defeat by Hungary was ignored, with his agony compounded when the incident was not reviewed by VAR.

After Croatia were awarded a penalty here, following a check on the monitor, the inconsistencies are maddening.

Though Luka Modric’s spot-kick was saved, seconds later the magician provided the potentially pivotal moment with the opening goal.

09:16 PM BST

GOAL! Croatia 1 Italy 0 (Modric 55)

... but Italy will be kicking themselves! They don’t settle after that superb moment from their keeper, they allow the Croatians to cross it back in. Stabbed at goal by Budimir, absolutely magnificent save from Donnarumma. But who is there to pounce on the rebound? Modric! What composure (from LM) and how very un-Italian not to settle things down.

09:13 PM BST

53 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Penalty save! Modric hit it low and accurately enough, but the massive Italian keeper gets down low and claws it away...

09:11 PM BST

50 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

More like it from the men in red and white. They’ve got the Italians on the ropes, Kramarić hits a shot and the sub Frattesi  has got his hand out in a most peculiar way. Hits him on the paw.  Ref is going over to the monitor. This is gonna be a penalty for sure.

He turned his back and stuck his hand out like a man who had seen a taxi cab too late.

Luka Modric steps up to take the penalty.

09:07 PM BST

46 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Here’s John Percy: “Similarities between Croatia and Scotland here, with the two contrasting prospects of being either knocked out or progressing to the last 16. Like Scotland on Sunday night, Croatia face a monumental second half and need to raise their game to pick up a crucial win.

“Scotland left it far too late to make a difference in their game against Hungary, while the lack of attacking quality was sadly glaring. Croatia have far more of a threat in the final third but the pressure is on.”

No doubt heeding the words of the mighty JP, the Croatians come out of the traps hot and have got Italy pinned back

09:04 PM BST

And Croatia too

Budimir, a lovely big boy, comes on and will go up front. I wonder if they had to wake Pašalić up before they took him off, he really was anonymous. 

09:03 PM BST

Sub for Italy

Pellegrini is coming off, I presume Lorenzo had a knock because he was Italy’s most creative player. Frattesi  is on.

08:50 PM BST

Croatia not troubling Italy

Croatia’s approach will suit Italy nicely - they’re seeing plenty of the ball but, unlike Spain who routinely dragged the Italians out of shape with their movement, Dalic’s side are doing precious little with the ball. Italy started slowly but they’ve had the best chances - well, chance, with Bastoni’s header - and do not look troubled.

Croatia’s XG - 0.04. That just about sums it up. Their second half performance against Albania was greatly improved and they will need the same in Leipzig or there’s every likelihood they will be heading out.

08:48 PM BST

Half time: Croatia 0 Italy 0

That’ll do it for a largely uneventful half.

Gary Lineker: “Well, did you enjoy that Alan?”

Alan Shearer: “No not really.”

Wayne Rooney: “That was boring.”

More BBC half time analysis after I’ve got a cup of tea. Or possibly not.

08:47 PM BST

44 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Ball lofted into the Italy box. Problem for Croatia is that three old boys in midfield have no pace, and the central forward Kramarić is not mobile either. Nobody anywhere near getting on to the end of it.

08:46 PM BST

That Bastoni chance

08:45 PM BST

43 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Not a great deal to tell you about in that package. There is a red flare in the ground, behind the Croatia goal.

08:40 PM BST

Last dance?

This could be the last dance for the great conductor Luka Modric, so the football romantics will be desperate for a Croatia win today.

Modric will be 39 in September and the prospect of Euro 2024 being his final appearance at a major tournament is a sobering one.

It’s frightening to think that Modric was involved in Croatia’s famous win over England in 2007, against a team including the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.

Croatia are looking more of a threat as half-time approaches and it is their heartbeat in midfield who will continue to drive them on.

08:39 PM BST

35 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Riccardo Calafiori plays it to  Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has a dibble with his left from the edge of the box. Saved

08:35 PM BST

32 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Italy were starting to take control of the game for a few minutes there but here’s Modric picking it up by the scruff of the neck.

Modric fins space on the right, low cross, Big Donna paws it away.

08:32 PM BST

Bastoni

08:28 PM BST

27 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Not been many chances so far but Bastoni has had one he should have scored from. Barella puts it on his head, but Bastoni cannot beat the keeper. That should have been 1-0 Italy.

08:25 PM BST

24 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

First booking of the night as Sučić trips Pellegrini. Bit of a soft yellow for me.

08:24 PM BST

22 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Italy waste that corner, but Pellegrini volleys in a cross with lovely technique, Retegui has an effort and that’s deflected bhind for a corner.

That set piece is nothing to write home about either.

This match is lacking “Un certo je ne sais quoi”.

08:22 PM BST

21 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Lovely ball into the Croatia box! Retegui rises for the header and it’s deflected behind for a corner. Was Di Lorenzo, behind him, better placed?

08:21 PM BST

19 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Pongracic with a hard and probably unnecessary tackle on Retegui. Freekick goes no place.

08:15 PM BST

14 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Italy have a corner, Croatia deal with it well and break via Modric. He’s just got too many with him though.

08:14 PM BST

11 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Kramarić with some good feet, cuts in from the right, hits the target. Bastoni slides in to clear, although Donnarumma had that covered. Perhaps not the telepathic communication of old between Italy keepers and backs.

08:13 PM BST

10 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Kovačić winning a midfield duel there with a robust challenge. What a very fine international midfield this has been.

08:08 PM BST

7 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Pellegrini with some neat work and here’s Italy’s first attack of note as Di Lorenzo gets nicely down the right, he is in acres but cannot deliver the ball in to any effect.

08:06 PM BST

6 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

The corner dealt with easily.

08:05 PM BST

5 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Ball hit long for Kramarić and he’s putting himself about. 

And now the game’s first shot as Sučić has go from 25 yards, it’s a really well hit effort, dipping and swerving and Big Donna in the Italy goal has to tip it over.

08:04 PM BST

2 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

Given their ageing legs, keep-ball seems a decent strategy for the Croats. Italy bustling and running around, yet to have a kick.

08:02 PM BST

1 mins: Croatia 0 Italy 0

The men in red and white are stroking the ball around with brisk intensity. 

08:00 PM BST

Croatia

will kick us off.

08:00 PM BST

Wigs in place

07:59 PM BST

Croatia fans

looking well up for it.

07:56 PM BST

Italy anthem

absolutely banging as ever.

07:52 PM BST

Qualification picture

07:46 PM BST

Modric

the subject of a preview feature on the BBC. Wayne Rooney says: “would be a dream to play with.” Alan Shearer notes that Modric is a complete package.

07:42 PM BST

Changes

Italy supremo Luciano Spalletti has made three changes .

Gianluca Scamacca is replaced by Mateo Retegui up front, Matteo Darmian comes in for Federico Chiesa, with Federico Dimarco moving further forward, and Giacomo Raspadori takes over from Davide Frattesi in midfield.

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic made four changes to his side that drew 2-2 against Albania, with Lovro Majer among the players dropping to the bench.

Mario Pasalic and Luka Sucic come into the forward line, replacing Bruno Petkovic and Majer with Andrej Kramaric switching to the central striker role.

At the back, Ivan Perisic and Josip Juranovic drop out, with Marin Pongracic and Josip Stanisic coming into the side as Josko Gvardiol switches to left back.

07:33 PM BST

There’s a possibility that Modric

retires from interntionals if Croatia don’t get through.

07:08 PM BST

3-5-2 Italy?

Surprise changes for Italia. Spalletti names Barella and Jorginho in midfield, while Retegui replaces Scamacca in attack.

Raspadori in for Chiesa. Darmian, Dimarco and Di Lorenzo all in the starting XI.

 

Darmian, Bastoni and Calafiori  as a back three?

07:03 PM BST

The teams

Croatia: Livakovic, Stanisic, Sutalo, Pongracic, Gvardiol, Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic, Mario Pasalic, Kramaric, Sucic. Subs: Erlic, Majer, Labrovic, Perisic, Budimir, Petkovic, Ivanusec, Sosa, Pjaca, Vida, Juranovic, Ivusic, Marco Pasalic, Baturina.

Italy: Donnarumma, Darmian, Bastoni, Calafiori, Di Lorenzo, Barella, Jorginho, Dimarco, Pellegrini, Retegui, Raspadori. Subs: Buongiorno, Gatti, Frattesi, Scamacca, Vicario, Chiesa, Bellanova, Cristante, Mancini, Zaccagni, Fagioli, El Shaarawy, Cambiaso, Folorunsho, Meret.

Referee: Danny Makkelie (Holland)

07:00 PM BST

Leipzig Stadium looking nice

06:56 PM BST

Croatia team

06:55 PM BST

Italy team

06:54 PM BST

Betting on the game?

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06:53 PM BST

All looks very picturesque

06:50 PM BST

Match predictor

06:40 PM BST

Head-to-head

The sides have met nine times. Five draws and Croatia with an eye-catching three wins to Italy’s one.

The bookies finding it hard to split them. 11/8 about the Italians, draw 2/1, Modric and co around 9/4.

06:36 PM BST

TV

This match is on BBC1, the Spain game is on BBC2.

Here’s my two cents on the Gary Lineker-turns-harsh story. 

06:35 PM BST

Fans, Part II

06:32 PM BST

Fans

05:44 PM BST

The nitty-gritty of Group B is upon us

Hello, good evening and welcome to our live blog of the Group B match between Croatia and Italy. M’colleague Greg Wilcox is live blogging the other fixture this evening, that’s Albania versus Spain. Both fixtures kick off at 8pm, that’s the legacy of your Disgrace of Gijon right there, but there won’t be any carve up this evening because all three of Croatia, Italy and the Albanians can go through if things go their way.

Here’s who needs what from the group B final fixtures. 

Spain: definitely through as group winners (so you wonder how seriously they take the Albania game?)

Italy: will be runners up if they avoid defeat vs Croatia. If they lose and Albania win, it’s arrivederci ‘cos they’ll be in last place. If Italy draw, and Albania win, Italy finish second by dint of head to head record.

Albania: can be runners up if they beat Spain and Croatia beat Italy, assuming goal difference etc. If they lose, that’s that. If they draw, and Croatia beat Italy, they are out.

Croatia: go through as runners up if they beat Italy and Albania fail to beat Spain. If Croatia win and Albanian win, they’ll be tied for second. The hierarchy of separation runs as follows: goal difference, then overall goals scored, then disciplinary points, then European Qualifiers rankings. If Croatia lose, that’s it. If they draw and Albania avoid defeat, it’s also over.

So that’s the maths bit out of the way, always makes the brain throb rather at this time of a tournament. This match is a tough one to call. Croatia very much didn’t run to form in their opener against Spain and rolled over surprisingly easily. Italy only lost 1-0 to Spain but the scoreline didn’t reflect the Spanish dominance. Not too sure what to make of the Albania form line, Italy fought back well after losing that super early goal.

Luciano Spalletti says: “I expect to see we have learnt a great deal from the Spain game, even though we played badly and even though it was a very painful defeat in terms of how it panned out. There are certain matches that ultimately dictate if it has been a great tale or a tale to forget. Ultimately the glory of your tale comes down to matches like this.”

It’s all to play for and we can’t wait to see the team news.

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2024-06-24T22:00:18Z dg43tfdfdgfd