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regular-article-logo Monday, 15 July 2024

Euro 2024: Albania show grit in game of twists, Gjasula delivers added-time equaliser to hold Croatia

Klaus Gjasula proved both hero and villain, bagging the added time leveller after having earlier netted an own goal that saw Croatia go 2-1 up in the Group B clash at the Volksparkstadion

Reuters Hamburg Published 20.06.24, 06:06 AM
Albania players rejoice during the match in Hamburg.

Albania players rejoice during the match in Hamburg. X/@EURO2024

Albania snatched a stoppage-time equaliser for a stunning 2-2 draw against Croatia in a thrilling European Championship contest on Wednesday, but the result left both countries with a tall order if they are to progress to the last-16.

Klaus Gjasula proved both hero and villain, bagging the added time leveller after having earlier netted an own goal that saw Croatia go 2-1 up in the Group B clash at the Volksparkstadion.

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The two countries now have a single point after their opening two matches and are left effectively needing to win their last group games on Mo­nday — Albania against Spain in Dusseldorf and Croatia against Italy in Leipzig at the same time — if they are to progress into the knockout stage.

No team has made the next round with just two draws since the Euro finals expanded to 24 teams in 2016.

Albania had taken an early lead but the Croats scored twice in two minutes to revive their hopes in a match full of twists and turns and played to a backdrop of ear-splitting noise.

Andrej Kramaric grabbed a 74th-minute equaliser and then followed an own goal from Gjasula 120 seconds later as a dominant Croatia, who lost 3-0 to Spain in their opening game, fought their way back.

They had pounded away at the Albania goal in the second half after looking anxious and frustrated at half-time as their unfancied opponents went into the break ahead.

Qazim Laci’s 11th-minute header had Albania in an early lead, as had been the case against Italy in their opening game when they scored after just 23 seconds.

This time they were a tou­ch tardy, weathering early pressure before Jasir Asani whipped in a cross from the right that Laci got a glancing head to before it slipped under keeper Dominik Livakovic.

The Croat keeper could have done better but made up for the slip with two key saves later in the first half.

Albania’s gritty determination — and the speed with which they seized counterattacking opportunities — belied their lowly ranking, some 56 places below No. 10 Croatia.

A double change at the break for Croatia was followed by intense pressure on the Albania goal with Thomas Strakosha saving from Luka Sucic and Mateo Kovacic to keep the lead intact till the 74th minute when Kramaric, on his 33rd birthday, netted from close range.

Then came a calamitous own goal as Ante Budimir’s shot, set up by Mario Pasalic pull-back from the byline, was blocked by Berat Djimsiti only for the rebound to hit Gjasula and go into his own net.

But Albania were not to be outdone and Gjasula sidefooted into the net with five minutes of additional time already played for a dramatic conclusion to the contest.

“My first minutes on the pitch were very, very difficult,” Gjasula said. “Then God wanted and gave me the opportunity to score. A very beautiful, historic day for me.”

Birthday boy Kramaric, speaking to EURO2024.com later, said: “I didn’t imagine
we would be celebrating my birthday in such a disappointing way. It would have been much nicer if we had taken all three points and it was like that until the last seconds. That’s football.”

Reuters

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