Euro 2024: Albania dent Croatia's hopes with dramatic draw

Luca Modric reacts after Croatia's draw against Albania. [AFP]

Albania left Croatia in danger of a group-stage exit from Euro 2024 after a thrilling 2-2 draw on Wednesday as Albania's Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equaliser.

After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain in their opener, Croatia were behind again when Qazim Laci gave Albania an early lead in Hamburg.

But Croatia improved after making two half-time substitutions and Andrej Kramaric levelled with 16 minutes remaining, before Gjasula put through his own net.

The Albania midfielder became the last-gasp hero, though, slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch his team a point.

Croatia, World Cup semi-finalists in 2022, will now likely need to win their final Group B match against holders Italy on June 24 to reach the knockout phase for a fifth straight major tournament.

"We will believe until the very end, to give our best as we did in this match," said forward Kramaric.

"Unfortunately we didn't win but we hope to be a bit luckier against Italy."

Albania have won plenty of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but could not hold a lead in either game and will probably have to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive.

"We have to go forward but we have to fight for every single point," said Albania coach Sylvinho.

"It's important for our lives, the life of the country, the federation. I'm proud of the players so we have to enjoy the moment."

Croatia's 'golden generation' were ultimately made to pay for a poor first-half display and are on the brink of bowing out from major tournament football in limp fashion.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic opted against a change in formation from the Spain defeat, sticking with his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic.

But he brought in Ivan Perisic at left-back, moving Manchester City's Josko Gvardiol into central defence.

Albania start fast again

The smell of smoke from flares filled the air outside the stadium as the supporters of both teams created one of the best atmospheres of the tournament so far.

Albania scored the fastest goal in European Championship history after just 23 seconds against Italy and they made another quick start.

It took until only the 11th minute for Sylvinho's men to break the deadlock this time, as Sparta Prague midfielder Laci ghosted into the area unmarked to nod home an inch-perfect, inswinging cross from Jasir Asani.

Croatia tried to impose their passing game, but Albania were constantly in their faces and continued to look the more dangerous side, with right-back Elseid Hysaj firing off target.

The underdogs could have doubled their advantage just after the half-hour mark, but Kristjan Asllani was denied by Dominik Livakovic when face-to-face with the Croatia goalkeeper.

Albania striker Rey Manaj passed up another excellent opportunity, failing to get enough purchase on his free header in first-half added time to seriously trouble Livakovic.

Dalic responded by making two changes at the interval, bringing on 21-year-old Luka Sucic and Mario Pasalic for the ineffective Lovro Majer and Brozovic.

Those substitutions brought about a quick improvement from Croatia, as Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha made a good save to keep out Sucic's left-footed shot, before Pasalic headed over seconds later.

Croatia finally found a way through in the 74th minute as substitute Ante Budimir picked out Kramaric inside the box and he cut inside before sending a composed finish inside Strakosha's near post.

The turnaround appeared to be complete two minutes later as Sucic's close-range effort was blocked, but rebounded off the unfortunate Gjasula and into an empty net.

Albania did not give up, missing a series of late chances as it appeared Croatia would cling on.

Gjasula had other ideas though, sweeping a loose ball home before a chaotic denouement that saw both sides throw bodies forward in search of a winner, to no avail.

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By AFP 7 hrs ago
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