Southgate in a ‘happier’ place shut off from criticism

HAMBURG: Albania left Croatia at risk of exiting the group stages of Euro 2024 after Wednesday’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Albanian Klaus Gjasula scoring at both ends, including a dramatic equalizer in the minutes of added time.
After a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Spain in their opening match, Croatia were again behind when Qazim Laci gave Albania the lead in Hamburg.
But Croatia improved after making two half-time substitutions and Andrej Kramaric equalized 16 minutes from time before Gjasula fired home.
The Albanian midfielder, however, became the last-gasp hero, slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch a point for his team.
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 stages of their fifth consecutive major tournament.
Albania won a lot of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but they failed to maintain their lead in either match and will likely have to beat Spain to keep alive the hopes of the round of 16.
Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ ultimately had to pay for a disappointing first-half performance and are in danger of a lackluster exit from major football tournaments.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic opted against a change of formation after Spain’s defeat, retaining his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic.
But he inserted Ivan Perisic at left-back, moving Manchester City’s Josko Gvardiol to central defence.
The smell of rocket smoke filled the air outside the stadium as fans 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 made another fast start.
This time it took Sylvinho’s men only the 11th minute to break the deadlock, when Sparta Prague midfielder Laci entered the area unmarked to hit a perfect cross from Jasir Asani.
Croatia tries to impose their passing game, but Albania is constantly present and continues to look the more dangerous team, with right-back Elseid Hysaj firing wide.
The underdogs could have doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark, but Kristjan Asllani was denied by Dominik Livakovic when he came face-to-face with the Croatian goalkeeper.
Albania striker Rey Manaj wasted another excellent chance, failing to get enough grip with his free header in first-half added time, putting Livakovic in serious trouble.
Dalic responded by making two substitutions at half-time, bringing on 21-year-old Luka Sucic and Mario Pasalic for the ineffective Lovro Majer and Brozovic.
These substitutions brought about rapid improvement for Croatia, as Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha made a good save to block Sucic’s left-footed shot, before Pasalic headed home seconds later.
However, Albania continued to pose a threat on the counterattack, with Nedim Bajrami drilling the near post wide in the 67th minute.
But Croatia finally found a way out in the 74th minute when substitute Ante Budimir picked out Kramaric inside the area and the striker cut inside before sending a composed finish to Strakosha’s near post.
The comeback seemed to be complete two minutes later, when Sucic’s shot from close range was blocked, but only against the unfortunate Gjasula and into an empty net.
Albania didn’t give up, missing a number of chances as it looked like Croatia would hold on.
Gjasula had other ideas though, sweeping home a loose ball before a chaotic denouement which saw both sides throw bodies forward in search of a winner, to no avail.

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