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Football European Championship

Zaccagni Stunner Sees Italy Advance To Last 16

  • June 24, 2024
  • 3 min read
Zaccagni Stunner Sees Italy Advance To Last 16

In a dramatic encounter at the Red Bull Arena Leipzig on Monday, Italy secured their passage to the Euro 2024 knockout stages following a thrilling 1-1 draw with Croatia.

This result left Croatia needing a miracle to qualify automatically. Their hopes now rest on securing a spot as one of the best third-placed teams, relying on the outcome of other matches.

This match marked the third consecutive major tournament meeting between the two nations, all occurring in the group stages. Despite recent struggles, Croatia maintained their unbeaten record against Italy in eight encounters since their independence in the early 1990s. Notably, the last three meetings had all ended in 1-1 draws.

The game began with Croatia controlling possession, while Italy opted for swift counterattacks spearheaded by wingbacks Federico Dimarco and Giovanni Di Lorenzo. This approach nearly paid off for Italy when Matteo Darmian’s precise cross found Mateo Retegui, but his header sailed wide.

Italy’s threat from crosses was again evident when Federico Chiesa delivered a ball that located Alessandro Bastoni. Bastoni’s header, Italy’s first attempt on target, was well-saved by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. Croatia responded through Luka Modrić, who unleashed a powerful shot from distance, only to be denied by the ever-reliable Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italian goal. Despite these back-and-forth chances, the first half ended goalless, leaving both teams’ qualification hopes in the balance.

Italy made a tactical shift in the second half, introducing Lorenzo Pellegrini for Davide Frattesi to bolster their attacking options. Croatia countered with Ante Budimir replacing Mario Pašalić. The deadlock was broken in the 53rd minute when a Croatian shot struck Frattesi’s arm, resulting in a penalty for Croatia. Modrić stepped up, but Donnarumma produced a crucial save to keep Italy level.

However, Modrić swiftly atoned for his miss by converting the rebound from Andrej Kramarić’s header, putting Croatia ahead. This goal made Modrić, at 38 years and 289 days, the oldest ever goalscorer in EURO history.

Italy responded by pinning Croatia back in their own half and dominating possession. Croatia reacted defensively, introducing Luka Ivanušec and Ivan Perišić for Mateo Kovačić and Luka Sučić in the 70th minute.

Italy’s relentless pressure finally paid off in stoppage time when Mattia Zaccagni unleashed a stunning curling shot into the top corner, marking his first international goal and securing a vital point for Italy.

The match finished 1-1, sending Italy through to the knockout stages. Croatia’s fate now rests on other results as they strive for a best third-placed team slot. With only two points, their chances of progressing seem slim.

This result showcased Italy’s resilience and ability to thrive under pressure. For Croatia, despite their historical dominance over Italy, this match underscored the fine margins in international football. The Checkered Ones now anxiously await the results of other group matches to determine their Euro 2024 fate.

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Nkanyiso Mchunu

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