Group of Death: Italy and Croatia Fight for Survival in Euro 2024

With Spain securing the first direct ticket to the 16th final, Italy, the defending champion, and Croatia, third in the 2022 World Cup, are competing for the second spot and to stay in the competition.
Italy's players attend their MD-1 training session at the base camp in Iserlohn on June 23, 2024, on the eve of their UEFA Euro 2024 football match against Croatia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
Italy's players attend their MD-1 training session at the base camp in Iserlohn on June 23, 2024, on the eve of their UEFA Euro 2024 football match against Croatia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The second group in the European Football Cup finals in Germany, labeled the Group of Death, includes three high-caliber teams.

With Spain securing the first direct ticket to the 16th final, Italy, the defending champion, and Croatia, third in the 2022 World Cup, are competing for the second spot and to stay in the competition.

Crucial Matches Ahead

Italy will meet Croatia in a fiery summit at the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig. Meanwhile, Spain, having secured the top spot in the group, will play a crucial match in Düsseldorf against Albania, aiming for victory to qualify among the best third-placed teams.

Spain, champions in 1964, 2008, and 2012, decisively defeated Croatia with three clean goals and Italy with one goal, securing the first ticket. Italy, on the other hand, beat Albania 2-1, while Croatia only managed a 2-2 draw with Albania in the second round.

A draw will favor Italy for second place, while Croatia's golden generation faces the risk of an early exit if they fail to achieve victory.

Croatia’s Struggles and Italy’s Criticism

Croatia, which reached the 2018 World Cup final and the 2022 semi-finals, may make several changes to its lineup. Players like Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric have faced criticism for their performances, while Ivan Perisic is still regaining form after an injury.

Italy's coach, Luciano Spalletti, criticized after the loss to Spain, understands that a defeat against Croatia may mean an early exit from the tournament. The situation is more challenging for Croatia, which must beat Italy and hope Albania does not beat Spain to secure second place.

Italy’s Defensive Woes

Italy's loss to Spain sparked headlines criticizing the players and the coach. La Gazzetta dello Sport described the team as "Little Italy," far from the steel team that won at Wembley three years ago. Corriere dello Sport called for a reset.

Veteran defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have retired, and coach Spalletti excluded Marco Verratti. The narrow loss to Spain highlighted Italy's lack of strength and vitality, as they were largely outplayed.

Strategic Changes

Spalletti may make changes by introducing Matteo Retegui and Matteo Darmian, who could replace Giovanni Di Lorenzo. Federico Dimarco's participation is doubtful due to injury.

Italy's opening victory over Albania was also challenging, with Albania scoring the fastest goal in tournament history after 23 seconds.

Croatia’s Tactical Adjustments

Croatia's slow starts have been problematic, conceding early goals in both matches. Despite their technical abilities, the team has struggled in the final third and failed to apply pressure.

Coach Zlatko Dalic admitted the difficulties faced in the matches and acknowledged the aging players and tough competition. Changes, such as replacing Brozovic with Luka Sučić, may be necessary.

Spain’s Dominance and Albania’s Challenge

Spain, having secured qualification, will aim to end the group stage with a perfect score. Coach Luis de la Fuente emphasized maintaining momentum and excellence.

Despite the option to rest key players, de la Fuente may continue with a strong lineup to ensure readiness for the knockout stages. Rodri’s suspension will necessitate at least one change.

Albania, seeking an unexpected victory to reach the knockout stage for the first time, remains hopeful after a late goal secured a draw with Croatia.

Conclusion

The upcoming matches will be decisive in determining which teams advance from the Group of Death. Italy and Croatia must bring their best performances to stay in the tournament, while Spain aims to maintain their dominance, and Albania hopes for a historic qualification.