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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 July 2024

European Championship: Italy must hit reset button, Zlatko Dalic readies ageing Croatia army 

Italy and Croatia face each other knowing their Euro 2024 survival is on the line in Monday’s decisive Group B match

Reuters Leipzig Published 24.06.24, 10:51 AM
Italy (picture shared on X) will have to be in top gear 

Italy (picture shared on X) will have to be in top gear 

With wounds to dress and points to prove, Italy and Croatia face each other knowing their Euro 2024 survival is on the line in Monday’s decisive Group B match.

Italy’s chastening 1-0 defeat by a dominant Spain on Thursday and Croatia’s 2-2 draw with Albania after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser left both teams anxiously glancing at the table heading into their last game.

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Italy, second with three points after their opening win over Albania, will be through to the last 16 as runners-up if they avoid defeat. They will be unable to progress, however, if they lose and Albania beat group winners Spain in the other Group B decider.

The situation is more pressing for Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia (one point), who began the tournament with a thumping 3-0 loss to Spain. They will go through as runners-up if they beat Italy and Albania do not beat Spain.

A draw, however, is unlikely to be good enough as no team has made the next round with two points since the Euro finals expanded to 24 teams in 2016 — offering a place in the last 16 to the four best third-placed finishers.

Italy’s loss to Spain prompted damning headlines and national soul-searching. La Gazzetta dello Sport denounced Luciano Spalletti’s side as “Little Italy”.

The loss was by a slender margin but it should have been far more emphatic as Spain’s 20 attempts on goal contrasted with Italy’s four, their fewest in a Euro or World Cup match since at least 1980.

Spalletti said his players lacked freshness, and wondered whether they needed more rest after Spain’s relentless attacks left them chasing shadows for most of the 90 minutes.

Croatia’s struggles have come as a surprise to coach Dalic, whose side reached the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar two years ago and the final in 2018.

With midfield conjurer Luka Modric, now 38, converted full-back Ivan Perisic, 35, and forward Andrej Kramaric, 33, Dalic has kept faith with the old guard that has served him so well in the past.

“The World Cup was two years ago and slowly our players are getting older, and this whole tournament has shown us that everyone is having a hard time,” Dalic said.

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