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Albania dent Croatia’s Euro 2024 hopes with dramatic draw

Albania dealt Croatia a blow in their bid to advance from the Euro 2024 group stage with an eventful 2-2 draw on Wednesday, featuring Klaus Gjasula scoring at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equalizer.

After a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Spain in their opening match, Croatia found themselves trailing early again when Qazim Laci gave Albania an early lead in Hamburg. However, Croatia rallied after making two halftime substitutions, with Andrej Kramaric leveling the score with 16 minutes remaining, before Gjasula inadvertently put the ball into his own net.

Yet, Gjasula redeemed himself as Albania’s hero, slotting home a crucial goal in the fifth minute of added time to secure his team a valuable point.

Croatia, semifinalists in the 2022 World Cup, now face a likely must-win situation in their final Group B match against holders Italy on June 24 to extend their streak of reaching the knockout phase in major tournaments to five.

“We will keep believing until the end and give our best, as we did in this match,” said forward Kramaric. “Unfortunately, we didn’t win but we hope for a bit more luck against Italy.”

Albania, despite earning praise for their performances against Italy (a 2-1 defeat) and Croatia, have struggled to hold onto leads and will likely need a victory against Spain to keep their hopes alive for the round of 16.

“We have to continue moving forward and fight for every point,” said Albania coach Sylvinho. “It’s crucial for our team, our country, and our federation. I’m proud of the players, so we need to savor this moment.”

Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ paid the price for a lackluster first-half display and are on the brink of a disappointing exit from major tournament football.

The match was marked by a vibrant atmosphere outside the stadium, with supporters of both teams creating one of the most electric atmospheres of the tournament thus far.

Albania, who had previously scored the fastest goal in European Championship history against Italy in just 23 seconds, capitalized early once more. In the 11th minute, Sparta Prague midfielder Laci found space to head in a perfectly placed cross from Jasir Asani.

Despite Croatia’s efforts to control possession, Albania remained aggressive and continued to pose a threat, with right-back Elseid Hysaj narrowly missing the target.

The underdogs had opportunities to extend their lead, including a close chance for Kristjan Asllani, who was denied by Croatia’s goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

Just before halftime, Albania’s Rey Manaj missed a promising header opportunity that failed to trouble Livakovic.

Dalic, Croatia’s coach, responded by making crucial halftime changes, bringing on Luka Sucic and Mario Pasalic for Lovro Majer and Marcelo Brozovic.

These substitutions quickly paid off as Croatia improved, with Sucic forcing a save from Albania’s goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and Pasalic heading over the bar shortly after.

In the 74th minute, Croatia finally broke through when substitute Ante Budimir set up Kramaric for a composed finish past Strakosha.

Croatia seemed to complete their comeback two minutes later when Sucic’s shot was blocked and deflected off Gjasula into the net.

Despite Albania’s late chances, it appeared Croatia would hold on for victory. However, Gjasula intervened with a late equalizer, setting off a frantic finish as both teams pushed for a winner without success.

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