Croatia v Italy: Spalletti looking for response from 'tired' Azzurri

By Sports Desk June 22, 2024

Italy head coach Luciano Spalletti insists his side must improve on their display against Spain when they face Croatia in Leipzig next Monday. 

The Azzurri's 10-game unbeaten run at the Euros came to an end at the hands of Luis de la Fuente's side after Riccardo Caliafiori's own goal in the second half. 

During the defeat, Italy's lack of attacking threat was clear, registering their fewest shots in a game on record at the Euros (four).

Italy are second in Group B, with Croatia bottom, though it is all to play for, with both sides capable of progressing or even missing out on a place in the last 16.

"Maybe I needed to give them more rest, I probably need to give them more days off, we gave them a day and a half off in terms of rest and we saw that was the right decision in terms of our data," Spalletti said.

"But there was too much of a gulf, we were constantly stretched, we probably didn't recover very well in terms of just how demanding and important the tournament was itself, because there was too much of a gulf in terms of sharpness and freshness."

Italy have never lost consecutive games at the European Championships, but are faced with a side they have failed to beat in their previous eight encounters. 

Spalletti believes his side can take inspiration from Spain's dominant display over them, saying: "Everyone would love to copy Spain in terms of the way they play. They've been playing the best football for the longest time now. 

"I need to try and succeed in making my players aware of how important this sort of match is, because if you sit very deep against teams like this, ultimately it becomes very difficult."

Meanwhile, Croatia are on the verge of a surprise group-stage exit after picking up just one point so far.

Head coach Zlatko Dalic has come in for criticism back home, despite having led the team to the 2018 World Cup final, 2022 World Cup semi-finals, and last year's Nations League final in an unprecedented spell of success.

"We will do everything to prepare for Italy. I have learned some things in these seven years where there have been far more successes than failures," Dalic said. 

"I'm also used to criticism. I always say it's my responsibility. I am aware that when medals are won, my role ‘means nothing’ and that I am there by accident, but that’s how it is in Croatia."

Dalic stuck with his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic against Albania, but replaced Brozovic at half-time with 21-year-old Luka Sucic, who impressed.

"Those who deserve to play, play," Dalic said. "I choose with the staff what I think is best.

"Of course, some others have merit, but those who I think are the best play. Here are those who deserve to be here. This probably applies to the older players and I will be with them as long as I live, but those who deserve to play, play."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia - Luka Modric

In what could be his final appearance for his nation at a major tournament, Modric continues to prove that age is just a number. The Real Madrid midfielder started his 15th game in the European Championships, with only Andres Iniesta (16) starting more often among midfielders in the history of the competition.

His 20 line-breaking passes were the most of any player against Albania, and he became the oldest player on record (since 1980) to complete 100+ passes in a match at the European Championships (108 v Albania today, 38y 284d). 

 

Italy - Gianluigi Donnarumma

With the Italians' forward line restricted to just four shots against Spain in their last encounter, Donnarumma will be key to ensure they prevent conceding against Croatia. 

The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper is set to make his 10th Euros appearance aged 25 years and 120 days on the day of the game, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to hit this milestone in European Championship history.

MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

Even though Opta's model makes Italy marginal favourties, Croatia boast an impressive record against the Azzurri and will be looking to continue that record as they look to confirm their progression to the knockout stages. 

Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, Croatia are unbeaten in their eight meetings against Italy (W3 D5). However, their last three games have all ended 1-1. 

Dalic's side have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1). They have won their final group game at three of their last four major tournaments (D1) since losing 3-1 to Mexico at the 2014 World Cup.

Croatia also boast an excellent record against the current reigning champions of the tournament. This will be their fifth against the current holders of the trophy, each coming in the group stages. 

Since the group phase was introduced in 1980, Italy have lost their final group game in only one of their nine appearances at the UEFA European Championship (W6 D2), going down 1-0 against the Republic of Ireland in 2016.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Croatia - 32.6%

Draw - 27.7%

Italy - 39.7%

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