Football Features

Five things learned as Euro 2024 Group B concludes: Italy survive despite historic Modric moment

By CJ Smith

Five things learned as Euro 2024 Group B concludes: Italy survive despite historic Modric moment

Published: 22:36, 24 June 2024

Euro 2024’s ‘group of death’ was decided in a dramatic night of action on Monday. 

With Spain, Italy and Croatia all drawn together alongside a tricky Albanian outfit, Group B was always going to be tough to call. Spain had already secured their passage to the knockout rounds and status as group winners ahead of Monday, but the other three teams each had a chance of making it to the last 16.

So, how did it all play out and how does the tournament look with another group checked off?

1. Luka Modric makes history, but it’s not enough for Croatia

They’ve been labelled a fading force and told they’re past their best, but for a while, it looked like you just couldn’t kill this Croatia team off. Heading into the final group match, their equation was simple: beat Italy or go home (barring a miracle in the third-place stakes).

After a cagey first half, Zlatko Dalic’s men came to life but thought they’d missed their opportunity when Gianluigi Donnarumma saved a Luka Modric penalty on 53 minutes and 44 seconds. However, just 33 seconds later, Modric was the first to pounce on a rebound after Donnarumma made another excellent save to deny Ante Budimir from close range. The Real Madrid veteran made no mistake this time, firing Croatia in front and, for a time, second in the group.

In the process, Modric became the oldest goalscorer in European Championships history at 38 years and 289 days old — beating the previous record held by Ivica Vastic, who was 38 years and 257 days old when he scored for Austria against Poland at Euro 2008.

You couldn’t have picked a more fitting goalscorer to keep this Croatia team alive, nor a more fitting stat to go with the goal.

However, with Modric already brought off, disaster struck as late substitute Mattia Zaccagni showed a moment of remarkable quality and composure to curl the ball into the far corner after a driving run forward from impressive Italian centre-back Riccardo Calafiori. 1-1 in the 98th minute.

Is this the last time we’ll see Modric at a major international tournament?

2. Italy scrape through

In that one moment, Lazio forward Zaccagni leapfrogged Italy above Croatia and into second place.

For so long, it looked like it wouldn’t happen and that it would be the reigning champions nervously awaiting their fate as a third-place team. Of course, the Azzurri had registered just two shots on target throughout the entire match prior to the last kick of the game.

But Zaccagni will be the toast of his nation after a moment of pure heroics. That’s some way to score your first-ever senior international goal.

The holders live on and will now prepare to face Switzerland in Berlin in the round of 16.

3. Croatia face desperate wait in third-place shuffle

Croatia’s late collapse on Monday leaves them third in Group B and now, they face a desperate wait over the next couple of days to see if the two points they have on the board are enough to see them go through as one of the best third-place teams. Four out of six such nations will go through to the round of 16, with the bottom two heading home.

In reality, it’s little more than a pipedream for Croatia, with their two points and goal difference of -3 leaving them fifth in the third-place running, behind Slovenia who have a goal difference of zero. Of course, the Slovenians face England on Tuesday and if they lose heavily, that would bump Croatia up the standings. But overall, there are four more groups with a game still to play, while two points has never been enough to see a third-place team go through in the previous two Euros where this format has been adopted.

In the space of two matches, Croatia have conceded stoppage time equalisers to Albania and Italy. That inability to see a game out — strange for such an experienced side that has been to World Cup and UEFA Nations League finals in recent years — looks very costly, indeed.

Euro 2024 third-place teams ranking (top four go through):

  1. Austria: 3pts, +1
  2. Slovakia: 3pts, 0
  3. Hungary: 3pts, -3
  4. Slovenia: 2pts, 0
  5. Croatia: 2pts, -3
  6. Czech Republic: 1pt, -1

4. Albania head home after loss to rotated Spain

As mentioned, Spain had already secured their status as group winners, so could effectively have the night off. Manager Luis de la Fuente took that very literally by making 10 changes to his starting XI, with only Aymeric Laporte surviving from the 1-0 win over Italy.

That gave Albania a glimmer of hope that they could pick up the unlikely win and three points necessary to reach the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in their history.

Unfortunately, that hope never became a reality. Even with a rotated team, Spain were dominant and took the lead after just 13 minutes through Ferran Torres, who slotted home after being picked out by Dani Olmo — the RB Leipzig man picking up his fourth European Championships assist in seven competition appearances.

By half-time, Albania had registered just one shot to Spain’s nine and were quite lucky to just be one goal behind.

Sylvinho’s men improved after the break and managed seven shots totalling 0.30 XG in the second half, matching La Roja and forcing a few important saves from goalkeeper David Raya. However, they just didn’t quite have the quality to put the Spaniards under enough sustained pressure.

The defeat sees Albania go home with just a single point to their name. However, managing a 2-2 draw against Croatia and only losing to Italy and Spain by a single goal is something they can be very proud of. Written off by many as whipping boys, they’ve more than played their part in the group of death.

5. An omen for Spain?

On the face of it, Group B looked like a nightmare, but Spain really made it feel like nothing more than a midday siesta. La Roja brushed aside Croatia 3-0 in their opening match before beating Italy 1-0 in a match they totally dominated — the scoreline definitely flattering the losing side. Even with a completely rotated team, they were always in control against Albania and only really looked like they could let their lead slip right at the end.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is just the second time Spain have ever made it through their first three matches at a European Championships with a 100% record. The last time they did that was in 2008 and what happened then? Oh, just the small matter of Spain kick-starting a period of international dominance that saw them win two European Championships and a World Cup, back-to-back-to-back.

An omen for the Spaniards? They haven’t even conceded a goal yet!

Spain and Italy prepare for the round of 16

As mentioned, Italy already know their fate in the first knockout round of Euro 2024, taking on Switzerland in Berlin on Saturday. Switzerland, of course, managed a draw against Germany in their final group game and knocked France out of the previous Euros. They’ve looked impressive at this tournament so far and will prove a serious test for the stumbling holders.

Spain, meanwhile, know they will play their round of 16 match in Cologne on Sunday. De la Fuente’s men don’t know who they’ll face yet as they await a third-place team from either Group A, D, E or F. Right now, those sides are Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. But with four groups still to be concluded, it’s best La Roja just bask in the glory of winning Group B with maximum points.

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