Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

Croatia 1-1 Italy: Mattia Zaccagni Late Strike Stuns Croatia, Sends Italy Through to Last 16

by: EdwardB


Leipzig crackled with anticipation. The final eight minutes of added time ticked away, and the stadium, a cauldron of Croatian checkers, braced for an eruption. Croatia was on the verge of a historic win. Even more poignant, it felt like the last dance for the legendary Luka Modric. He had just missed a penalty, but in a stunning turn of events, atoned with a moment that would have set Leipzig rocking until dawn. But this night belonged to the Italians.

A Late Italian Miracle

While Croatia celebrated, Italy, the reigning champions, steeled themselves. They had been on the verge of a desperate fight for third place, desperately throwing men forward but failing to create any clear-cut chances. The initiative came from an unlikely source, Riccardo Calafiori. The elegant Bologna center-back surged forward, exploiting a gap in the Croatian midfield. He reached the penalty area and found Mattia Zaccagni, a second-half substitute, in space. Zaccagni’s perfectly placed curler found the back of the net, and in a flash, Italy were through.

Their performance, however, left much to be desired. To overcome a more polished Swiss team on Saturday, Italy will need a drastic improvement. Save for a 15-minute spell in the first half, they were thoroughly outplayed by Croatia, who turned on the heat after the break. But perhaps the momentum from such an improbable victory will be transformative. Stranger things have happened, and a defiant Luciano Spalletti, in a meandering and sometimes heated press conference, would certainly not entertain any negativity.

Mattia Zaccagni

A Maestro’s Heartbreak

The most poignant image of the night was that of Luka Modric. A desolate figure, clutching a man-of-the-match award that will likely hold little significance in his trophy cabinet, he saluted his crestfallen fans after the final whistle. The Croatian captain, who turns 39 in two and a half months, may have played his final international game. If so, the record books will show that he bowed out by becoming the European Championship’s oldest goalscorer. It could have been a storybook ending, a career’s worth of brilliance distilled into one unforgettable night. Instead, it was a harsh reminder that even legends are not immune to the whims of fate.

From Elation to Despair, and Back Again

Since the beginning of the second half, the Croatian team had been building up their momentum. They were aware that anything other than a victory would almost certainly result in the end of their tournament. When Andrej Kramaric’s shot hit Davide Frattesi’s outstretched arm, they took advantage of the opportunity. After a VAR review, the Croatian appeals were validated. It was a clear penalty. Modric stepped up, his face etched with determination, but Gianluigi Donnarumma guessed right, diving to his left to parry the shot away. For a fleeting moment, Modric wore the expression of a man utterly defeated. But this is Luka Modric, a player who has consistently defied expectations and risen above adversity.

Within 33 seconds, he had his redemption. Luka Sucic, a constant threat down the right flank, whipped in a dangerous cross. Ante Budimir, a second-half substitute, rose highest, guiding the ball goalwards. Donnarumma, in inspired form, produced another spectacular save. But waiting, anticipating, was Modric. He pounced on the rebound, hammering the ball into the back of the net, igniting an eruption of unbridled joy amongst the Croatian fans.

Luka Modric

Croatia Dominance Underscores Italy’s Deficiencies

Italy, for their part, struggled to mount a response. Aside from a headed effort from Alessandro Bastoni, who had earlier been denied by Dominik Livakovic, they rarely troubled the Croatian defense. While the introduction of Enrico Chiesa briefly injected some life into their attack, it was Bastoni, clearing a dangerous Marcelo Brozovic cross away from the lurking Budimir, who prevented further damage. The Italians could have been in big trouble if they had suffered a more significant loss.

Instead, they found a way, albeit in the most dramatic and fortunate fashion. The victory was undeniably harsh on Croatia, a team that, as Spalletti himself had acknowledged before the game, possessed superior technical quality. From the outset, Croatia looked sharper, quicker, and more cohesive. Sucic tested Donnarumma early on with a powerful drive, and while Italy had their moments through Bastoni and Mateo Retegui, they were largely second-best against a Croatian midfield that seemed capable of telepathically dismantling their opponents. Josko Gvardiol, effortlessly escaping a tight spot in his own half, drew gasps of admiration from all corners of the stadium, and Modric, defying his age once again, led a breathtaking counter-attack down the left flank.

Tactical Tweaks and a Tense Atmosphere

Spalletti’s choice to use a 3-5-2 system had failed to produce the intended results. Federico Dimarco seemed uneasy playing as the left wing-back, and Giovanni Di Lorenzo, positioned on the other side, didn’t take advantage of several advantageous attacking opportunities. The first half progressed with the match becoming a tense and cautious contest. Both teams pressed relentlessly, snapping into tackles, and hunting for any opening. The smoke from a series of flares set off behind Livakovic’s goal added to the electric atmosphere. It was a night pregnant with the feeling that one moment of magic, one stroke of luck, could tip the balance and unleash chaos.

A Glimmer of Hope for Modric and Croatia?

Modric provided that moment, twice, only to be denied by a cruel twist of fate. Croatia, however, are still in the tournament. An improbable combination of results, four in total, could still see them through, and few would begrudge Modric that lifeline. When asked about his future with the national team after the game, he was non-committal—the time for such pronouncements had passed. Still, the prospect of Modric, at 40 years old, gracing the world stage once more is a tantalizing one. As he left the field to be replaced by Lovro Majer in the 80th minute, it felt like the final act. Instead, the maestro’s final masterpiece may yet be written.

Holabet News is your trusted online betting site in SingaporeYour winning journey starts here!