Preview: Croatia vs. Italy

Vying for second spot in Group B at Euro 2024, Croatia and Italy will meet for a Monday night showdown in Leipzig.

While the Azzurri know one point is enough to secure a place in the last 16, their neighbours must win and hope Albania do not beat group winners Spain.

Match preview

Despite suffering a serious setback on Wednesday – when they conceded a last-gasp goal against Albania to sit on just one point after two Group B fixtures – Croatia can still progress to the knockout rounds of another European Championship.

They will certainly go through to the last 16 if they defeat Italy on Monday and Albania are unable to upset Spain – should the Albanians also win, the pair would be split by means of goal difference.

Defeat will consign the World Cup bronze medallists to an early exit – or a draw and Albania avoiding defeat – as the two teams’ head-to-head record is level after events at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion.

Having lost 3-0 to Spain in their opener, the Vatreni were held to a dramatic 2-2 draw by Albania four days later, scoring twice in the second half to turn the game on its head before shipping a stoppage-time equaliser.

Croatia have already had more shots and more attempts on target at Euro 2024 than they managed across three group games three years ago, but an ageing midfield and misfiring attack has not helped their cause this summer.

As his team have also conceded five goals so far – and face the prospect of failing to win at a major finals for the first time since 2006 – long-serving head coach Zlatko Dalic is left with some tough decisions to make.

Now, two nations split by the Adriatic Sea meet for a high-stakes contest in Eastern Germany, with Croatia holding the upper hand in terms of precedent: since gaining independence in the 1990s, they are unbeaten in eight games against their Italian counterparts.

Meeting Croatia for the third time at a major tournament – having lost 2-1 at the 2002 World Cup and played out a stalemate at Euro 2012 – Italy are armed with the knowledge that a draw on this occasion will send them through as Group B runners-up.

The reigning European champions could already have booked their place in the last 16, but suffering a 1-0 defeat to Spain last time out leaves the Azzurri in some danger of a disappointing exit.

Although only Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal separated the sides in Gelsenkirchen, La Roja were by far the better team in almost every metric, causing much consternation up and down the Italian peninsula.

With a 10-game undefeated streak at UEFA’s main event finally over, dreams of becoming just the second country to win successive Euros are now dependent on quickly turning things around.

Luciano Spalletti’s men have plenty to prove, after attempting their fewest shots in a European Championship game to date and looking shaky at the back: La Nazionale have never lost consecutive matches at the Euros, but their final group fixture seems far from straightforward.

Avoiding defeat to Croatia is a minimum requirement, because if Italy lose and Albania somehow shock already-qualified Spain, the Azzurri’s title defence would come crashing to a halt.

Team News

As all 25 remaining players trained at the weekend – Torino forward Nikola Vlasic recently departed the camp due to injury – Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic can contemplate several changes to his starting XI.

Bruno Petkovic could make way for Ante Budimir up front, while former Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic may be dropped for fresh legs in the form of 21-year-old Luka Sucic, having failed to perform thus far.

By contrast, captain Luka Modric is sure to start, having made his 34th major tournament appearance against Albania – a total just six European outfield players can better. The Real Madrid playmaker also made 64 passes in the final third, which is the second-most on record for a single game at the Euros.

Modric will be joined by Mateo Kovacic in the engine room, while the latter’s Manchester City teammate Josko Gvardiol should continue in central defence, with either Borna Sosa or veteran winger Ivan Perisic lining up at left-back.

Italy are also expected to shake up their side on Monday, following sub-par displays by players such as Gianluca Scamacca, Jorginho and Giovanni Di Lorenzo against Spain.

Matteo Darmian, Bryan Cristante and Genoa striker Mateo Retegui are all viable alternatives, while young midfielder Nicolo Fagioli is also in contention despite spending most of last season sidelined by a betting ban.

Luciano Spalletti’s squad was decimated by injury before the tournament kicked off, and with Federico Dimarco’s presence now in doubt due to a bruised calf, the versatile Darmian may be required to deputise.

Voted player of the tournament at Euro 2020, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma will captain the Azzurri, with Inter pair Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella also certain of selection.

Donnarumma is set to make his 10th European Championship appearance aged 25 years and 120 days, thereby becoming the youngest goalkeeper to hit that milestone by nearly three years.

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Sutalo, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Sucic, Kovacic; Pasalic, Budimir, Kramaric

Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Darmian, Bastoni, Calafiori, Dimarco; Fagioli, Barella; Chiesa, Pellegrini, Zaccagni; Retegui

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