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Italy Clinches Euro 2024 Knockout Spot with Dramatic Late Equalizer

Knowing nothing less than a win would be enough to keep their faint hopes of a top-two finish alive, Croatia flew out of the traps in search of an early goal. That so nearly arrived within five minutes when Luka Sučić’s curling effort from the edge of the area forced Gianluigi Donnarumma to tip away to safety at full stretch.

 But for all their early pressure, Croatia’s defensive frailties were almost exposed midway through the first half, yet fortunately for them, Mateo Retegui could only head Riccardo Calafiori’s cross narrowly wide of the target.

Raining crosses into the box was proving to be Italy’s best route to goal, as they proved again when Nicolò Barella planted one perfectly onto the head of an unmarked Alessandro Bastoni six yards from goal. 

What they couldn’t account for though, was the inspired form of Dominik Livaković, who produced a stunning save to tip over the bar. That save looked even more key after the break as this time Croatia’s fast start was rewarded with a penalty when Davide Frattesi handled in the area. Veteran Luka Modrić stepped forward to take the penalty, but his rather tame effort was beaten away by Donnarumma.

The pair were resuming their duel just seconds later, and this time it was Croatia’s all-time record appearance maker who came out on top, slamming the ball into the roof of the net to become the Euros oldest-ever goalscorer after Donnarumma had initially produced a top-drawer save to deny Andrej Kramarić. Without a clean sheet in nine consecutive Euros matches prior to today, seeing the game out was always likely to be tricky, and they were almost undone instantaneously when an unmarked Bastoni powered a header over from close range.

A raft of Italian changes looked to have stunted their momentum, but with seconds to spare, one of them, Mattia Zaccagni, popped up to curl home a stunning last-gasp equaliser to break Croatian hearts and send Italy through to the knockouts. Croatia now face a nervous wait to see if their two-point haul is enough to secure them a spot in the knockouts by virtue of being a best third-place finisher. Italy won’t have to wait for anything – they already know their opponents in the last 16 will be Switzerland – a game which kicks off the knockout phase on June 29th.

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Written by Charles Daisi

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