LEIPZIG:

Group B was dubbed Euro 2024’s ‘Group of Death’ but while Spain soared through with a game to spare, heavyweights Italy and Croatia meet on Monday fighting to stay in the competition.
Both sides were outclassed by Spain, and while reigning champions Italy edged Albania 2-1, Croatia could only draw 2-2 with the minnows.
It gives Italy the upper hand ahead of their clash in Leipzig, with Croatia’s golden generation at risk of a disappointingly early exit if they fail to win.
Croatia, who reached the 2018 and 2022 World Cup final and semi-final respectively, may make several changes as they scrap for Euros survival.
Midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, playing in Saudi Arabia, has come in for criticism after sub-par outings in the first two matches, while Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, 38, has also struggled.
Full-back Ivan Perisic has looked a shadow of himself, still to find his footing after a long injury lay-off.
“It makes me cry when I watch (Modric) on the pitch, he is giving his last atoms of strength… but he is not (the Modric) we are used to seeing,” read one column in Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List.
Youngster Luka Sucic could replace Brozovic, as he did at half-time against Albania.
Striker Bruno Petkovic, who missed a penalty in the 3-0 beating by Spain, called on Croatia to deliver for their vast support in Germany.
“The responsibility is on us, we owe it to our fans to show more,” he said.
“I expect us to beat Italy, and I hope it’s going to happen. We are aware of everything we did or didn’t do in the first two matches, and we need to fix that.”
Coach Zlatko Dalic complained ahead of the game he was not being given credit when Croatia did well but was immediately criticised when they struggle.
“I have learned some things in these seven years where there have been far more successes than failures,” he said.
Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was positive ahead of the clash with the Euro 2020 winners.
“We control our own fate — that’s a good thing,” said the stopper, who shone at the Qatar World Cup, saving a penalty in a shoot-out against Brazil to take Croatia to the semis.
Italy need a draw against Croatia to claim second place but after being thoroughly outplayed in their 1-0 loss to Spain, expectations are not high for the Azzurri.
Newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport labelled them “Little Italy”, a far cry from the steely team which beat England at Wembley.
Veteran defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have since retired, while coach Luciano Spalletti left out Marco Verratti, now playing in Qatar.
The coach could also ring the changes with striker Mateo Retegui in contention, along with defender Matteo Darmian, who could replace Giovanni Di Lorenzo after a torturous night against Spain’s Nico Williams.
Even Italy’s opening victory over Albania was not without its challenges — Sassuolo’s Nedim Bajrami put Albania ahead with the fastest goal Euros history on 23 seconds.
Italian goalkeeping great and the current delegation head, Gianluigi Buffon, said he was confident the Azzurri could use the loss as fuel.
“Sometimes it’s easier to react to a defeat than it is to a win,” said Buffon on Friday.
“Yesterday we got some answers to questions we’d asked of ourselves, and some new questions to think about.
“So if we thought we were a nine out of ten team against Albania, we can’t suddenly think we’re a four out of ten team after the Spain match. We’re probably somewhere in the middle.”

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *