Euro 2024 Report: Croatia 1 - 1 Italy

Mattia Zaccagni of Italy celebrates scoring his team's first goal to equalise during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match between Croatia and Italy at Football Stadium Leipzig

Mattia Zaccagni of Italy celebrates scoring his team's first goal to equalise during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match between Croatia and Italy at Football Stadium Leipzig Credit: Photo by Alex Pantling - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Macdara Ferris reports from Leipzig

With virtually the last kick of the game, Mattia Zaccagni popped up to pick up a Riccardo Calafiori pass to curl home an equaliser for Italy and that point takes the reigning European champions through to the knock out stages.

It was heartbreak for Croatia who seemed destined for the next round with Spain defeating Albania in the other Group B game, but now they must wait for results elsewhere. However with only two points they have only a very slim chance of making the knockout stages. 

The talk is of the last dance for this talented but ageing Croatian team who came into the game in Leipzig facing elimination from the European Championship having only a point from their two games to date. 

Luka Modrić continues to avoid Father Time catching up with him. It was the 38-year-old’s goal against the Azzuri, after an earlier penalty miss, that made him the oldest ever scorer in a Euro tournament and seemed to be a goal to book his team a berth in the knockout stages. 

However, the late drama means that rather than Zlatko Dalić’s army moving on they must wait and it looks most likely that Dalić’s ‘Dad’s Army’ will be heading back to Croatia early from the Euros. 

During Dalić’s tenure over seven years he has brought his team to a World Cup final in 2018 and thrid place in the 2022 tournament.

The country shone in those World Cups but down the years in the European Championships their best was two quarter-finals and they went out in the last 16 in the last two Euros. It now seems they will exit at the group stages this time around.

Italian manager Luciano Spalletti spoke ahead of the game that his team needed to prepare to take their chances in the game. “The high speed train spends five seconds on the platform and if you aren’t ready to get on, you are walking home,” he said.

Well Zaccagni was ready when the chance came and he stepped aboard in time to take his side into the knock out stages. Their destination might well have seemed to be Rome before the late goal but now it is Berlin – they will play Switzerland there in the last 16.

Croatia, cheered on by what seemed like three quarters of the crowd in Leipzig, took the game to Italy right from the off – as you’d expect from a team desperate for a win to progress to the last 16. They forced Gianluigi Donnarumma into a top class save as early as the fifth minute when he touched over Luka Sucic’s superb shot from distance.

With Donnarumma’s team only needing a draw, Italy were always going to drop deep and thrust their defence – they allowed Croatia have 62% of the ball in the opening half.

We got to see plenty of passes from the outside boot of Luca Modric – how we will miss that when he finally steps away from the game – as they looked to unpick that packed Azzurri defence.

However, the Italians had the higher quantity and higher quality chances in that opening period but their lack of cutting edge in front of goal proved their downfall. Di Lorenzo looked to make the most of the space that was afforded him down the left.

Mateo Retegui applied pressure to the Croatian defence as he looked to justify his inclusion having been brought into the starting XI in place of Gianluca ‘Playstation’ Scamacca. 

He won a corner when his header went wide of the goal having brushed off Joško Gvardiol’s head. He had two further shots on goal blocked. Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic was required to save a Alessandro Bastoni’s header, and Pellegrini shot on the turn. 

He also had to race out of goal to stop Lorenzo Pellegrini getting to Giacomo Raspadori’s ball over the top. The Azzuri weren’t afraid to go long but Luciano Spalletti wanted Donnarumma to hit Retegui’s chest rather than his head.

Towards the end of the half Croatia got forward more as their fans raised the sound and vision levels up another notch. A healthy UEFA fine is no doubt on the way to the Croatian FA HQ in Zagreb for flares and they might be hoping to get away with the persistent standing as their supporters were on the feet cheering on their team from first whistle to almost the last.

Seven minutes into the second half a VAR review handed Croatia a spot kick when Davide Frattesi's hand was in an unnatural position when Andrej Kramaric took a shot at the Croatian end of the ground. Modric stood up to take the spot but Donnarumma diving low to his left pushed it out.

A minute later though Modric made no mistake from close range to get the opener. Donnarumma had saved sub Ante Budimir’s effort but if fell into the path of Modric for him to make up for his penalty miss.

The place erupted with beer sent into the air – some into the press box - and beer cups sent out onto the pitch which meant a slight delay for some cleaning by the Italian defenders. 

Neither team wanted to look for favours from Spain who, with the group already won, had made ten changes for their game against Albania and so Italy stepped up their game. The introduction of Federico Chiesa added some badly needed new energy. Bastoni went close with another header off a corner. 

When Modric left the field with ten minutes to go obviously it was a standing ovation from the Croatian fans but the Italian end also acknowledged this legendary player.

Inside the last five mins the ball fizzed right across the six yard box but Scamacca, who had been introduced off the bench, couldn’t get his boot to the ball to force it home. 

But the Azzuri would get one more chance and eight minutes into injury time Mattia Zaccagni right footed goal silenced the stunned Croatian support to see the Italian bench erupt in celebration.

What a finish to Group B.

Croatia: Dominik Livakovic; Josip Stanisic, Josip Sutalo, Marin Pongracic, Joško Gvardiol; Luka Modric (Lovro Majer 80), Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovačić (Luka Ivanusec 70); Luka Sucic (Ivan Perišić 70), Andrej Kramaric (Josip Juranovic 90), Mario Pasalic (Ante Budimir 46);
Subs not used: Ivica Ivusic, Nediljko Labrović, Domagoj Vida, Martin Erlic, Borna Sosa, Martin Baturina, Martin Baturina, Marko Pjaca, Marco Pašalić, Bruno Petkovic.
Booked: Luka Sucic (24), Luka Modric (60), Luka Ivanusec (74), Marin Pongracic (78), Josip Stanisic (82), Marcelo Brozovic (90).

Italy: Gianluigi Donnarumma; Alessandro Bastoni, Riccardo Calafiori, Matteo Darmian (Mattia Zaccagni 81), Gionvanni Di Lorenzo; Nicolo Barella, Federico Dimarco (Federico Chiesa 57), Jorginho (Nicoli Fagioli 81), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Davide Frattesi 46), Giacomo Raspadori (Gianluca Scamacca 75); Mateo Retegui.
Subs not used: Guglielmo Vicario, Alex Meret, Federico Gatti, Raoul Bellanova, Alessandro Buongiorno, Andrea Cambiaso, Gianluca Mancini, Michael Folorunsho, Bryan Cristante, Stephan El Shaarawy.
Booked: Riccardo Calafiori (90).

Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands) Player of the Match: Luca Modric (Croatia)