• Thursday, July 18, 2024

FOOTBALL

Last-gasp Italy draw pushes Croatia towards Euros exit as Spain top group

Italy finished Group B in second place with four points, five behind Spain, who beat Albania 1-0 thanks to Ferran Torres’ goal in the 13th minute in Dusseldorf.

Zaccagni, who came on with nine minutes left, scored in the eighth minute of stoppage time following a pass from defender Riccardo Calafiori. (Photo: credit Getty Images)

By: Vivek Mishra

Mattia Zaccagni kept Italy’s European Championship title hopes alive with a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Croatia, as Spain topped the group and eliminated Albania.

Italy reached the last 16 of Euro 2024 after Zaccagni’s equaliser in stoppage time in Leipzig. The goal sparked celebrations among Italian fans and a sprint from 65-year-old coach Luciano Spalletti.

Italy will face Switzerland in the next round. Zaccagni, who came on with nine minutes left, scored in the eighth minute of stoppage time following a pass from defender Riccardo Calafiori.

“Nobody believed any more, but the players did,” Spalletti told Sky Sport Italy. In a press conference, Spalletti criticised critics and unnamed people within Italy’s camp for leaking his team’s formation to the media.

Italy finished Group B in second place with four points, five behind Spain, who beat Albania 1-0 thanks to Ferran Torres’ goal in the 13th minute in Dusseldorf. Albania’s defeat means England, France, and the Netherlands are guaranteed a place in the next round as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Croatia’s hopes are slim due to Zaccagni’s equaliser. Luka Modric had given Croatia the lead nine minutes after the break, becoming the oldest goalscorer in Euros history at 38 years and 289 days. Modric scored after Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Ante Budimir’s header and had earlier saved Modric’s penalty.

“It’s hard when you lose like this to find the words to describe how you feel,” said Modric. Croatia’s third-place finish with two points leaves their hopes hanging by a thread.

Misfiring England ‘favourites’

England, on four points, can top Group C with a win over Slovenia on Tuesday. Captain Harry Kane supported manager Gareth Southgate despite criticism of his tactics and team selection after sub-par displays against Serbia and Denmark.

Southgate, who has led England to deep runs in the last three major tournaments, has a talented squad. Kane said, “his record speaks for itself”. Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek agreed, calling England “one of the favourites, if not the favourites, for the tournament”.

If England top the group, they could face Italy in the quarters. Second place would mean playing hosts Germany in the last 16.

France and the Netherlands are vying for top spot in Group D on Tuesday. France coach Didier Deschamps said Kylian Mbappe, recovering from a broken nose, was “eager to play” against eliminated Poland but did not indicate if he would start in Dortmund. France lacked cutting edge without Mbappe in their draw with the Netherlands, and fans are eager for his return.

(With inputs from AFP)

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