Hits and misses: Spain the real deal but it's pain for Modric

Spain’s depth could be key in long run

Spain's Jesus Navas, center, duels for the ball with Albania's Rey Manaj
Spain’s Jesus Navas was one of those drafted in for the win over Albania

While Gareth Southgate looks set to stick with a similar line-up for England’s third and final group game at Euro 2024, still searching for that positive performance to take some serious belief into the knockout stages, Luis de la Fuente was able to rotate.

Having already secured top spot in Group B thanks to two wins from two, his purring stars had to sit out the 1-0 win against Albania from the start. That feels unlikely to disturb their rhythm with games coming so quickly, but it allowed others to shine.

Ferran Torres scored the goal but there was lots to enjoy about Dani Olmo’s performance, while the full-backs Jesus Navas and Alex Grimaldo were attacking threats. Mikel Merino showed his quality in midfield. David Raya made several big saves.

All can probably expect to be back on the bench when Spain return to action in the round of 16 but they will do so having had a taste of this tournament, ready to impact the game during the second half of that one if required. It might just make a difference.
Adam Bate

Modric cruelly denied another magic night

Croatia's Luka Modric waves supporters at the end of a Group B match between Croatia and Italy at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Leipzig, Germany, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Croatia’s Luka Modric applauds his country’s supporters after Italy’s late equaliser

With Spain and Italy in the same group, there was always the possibility Luka Modric’s fifth European Championship and ninth major tournament with Croatia would end in disappointment. But the manner of their dramatic draw with Italy felt cruelly painful for the 38-year-old.

He had become the oldest scorer ever at a Euros when he made up for his penalty miss with a close-range finish and as he was applauded off late on, it seemed he had done the business for Croatia once again. The conductor of Croatia’s play had come up with the defining moment. But dreams of another run deep into a major tournament were smashed by Italy’s equaliser with virtually the final kick of the game.

Modric, watching on from the dugout, was helpless. A big win for England over Slovenia seems unlikely, given the performances of Gareth Southgate’s side so far. And another major tournament for Modric – 39 in September – is surely a step too far, even for a player who intends to go on playing for Real Madrid next season. This could be the end of him on the international stage.
Peter Smith

Broja key to Albania’s future – so why was he barely used?

Albania's Armando Broja missed two big chances against Spain
Albania’s Armando Broja missed two big chances against Spain

Albania ran out of energy, ideas and time.

Their Euro 2024 will read as a valiant effort. A country with less than three million people took leads against Italy and Croatia, before giving Spain – now among the tournament favourites – a real contest.

For most of Monday night, they were two goals away from second spot and knocking Italy out. Two big chances fell to Armando Broja, but both were saved by David Raya. Qualification was a lot closer than how the Group B table looks.

Broja’s role in this team was a peculiar one. By far and away their key attacking star, the Chelsea striker started just one out of the three group games. Especially surprising given their other forwards play club football in Turkey, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Croatia.

Despite the 22-year-old enduring an off season in west London, Broja has to become the focal point of this Albania side.
Sam Blitz

Zaccagni the unlikely hero for Italy

Italy's Mattia Zaccagni scores his side's opening goal during a Group B match between Croatia and Italy at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Leipzig, Germany, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Italy’s Mattia Zaccagni bends in his brilliant last-gasp equaliser against Croatia

A name many could be forgiven for not knowing before kick-off. A name Croatia supporters won’t be able to get out of their heads after it. Mattia Zaccagni. The 29-year-old Lazio winger picked a perfect time to score his first international goal on his seventh cap for Italy. 90+8.

And what a finish it was. A wonderful, bending effort into the far corner which was in contrast to the scrappy, desperate football Italy had produced after Luka Modric’s opener looked set to send Croatia into the last 16 and leave the Azzurri’s hopes hanging by a thread.

Zaccagni won the goal of the season prize in Serie A for an overhead kick in 2021. But this may be the one he treasures most. Especially if the title-holders go on to mount a successful defence of their crown.
Peter Smith

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