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Euro 2024: Croatia 2-2 Albania – Albania snatch dramatic draw after Croatian comeback

Two late goals for Croatia turn the game around before Albania snatch dramatic leveller

Albania struck an injury-time goal to snatch a draw from a pulsating Group B clash against Croatia.

Two late goals in as many minutes looked like they would be enough for Croatia to avoid one of the biggest upsets in European Championship history as they came from behind to lead 2-1 with 14 minutes remaining.

Just as they did in their opening defeat against Italy, Albania took the lead in the Group B clash in Hamburg through Qasim Laci’s early header.

A dynamic and disciplined display saw them hold that advantage until 16 minutes from time when Andrej Kramaric swept home the equaliser on his 33rd brthday before an unfortunate goal from Klaus Gjasula turned the game ahead.

However five minutes into added time Albania piled forward and Gjasula swept home the latest equaliser in European Championship history to spark wild celebrations.

It means Albania will need a win against Spain to stand any chance of progressing to the Round of 16 in their final game, while Croatia can only progress by beating Italy.

Dream start for minnows

The team ranked 65th in the Fifa rankings faced 10th placed Croatia and made another bright start.

Midfielder Laci was handed a start in midfield by coach Sylvinho and repaid his faith as he broke the deadlock on 11 minutes when he timed his run perfectly through a static Croatia defence to glance a header from a perfect cross from Jasir Asani under the grasp of keeper Dominik Livakovic, who might have done better.

Marcelo Brozovic dragged an effort wide from the edge of he area on 20 minutes as Croatia found their feet and Lovro Majer’s curling cross was headed over by Bruno Petkovic.

At the other end Elseid Hysaj lashed a bouncing ball over the Croatian bar on the half hour before Livakovic made a crucial save to deny Kristjan Asllani after he latched onto a through-ball from Asani which was deflected into his path with the goal at his mercy.

Thomas Strakosha gathered a long-range shot from Brozovic and Majer nodded wide of the upright as Croatia sought to turn the tide but Albania’s energy made the veteran pairing of Modric and Mateo Kovacic look sluggish, clearly having learned their lesson having sat back when ahead against Italy in their opening game on Saturday.

Albania kept pressing and Manaj almost doubled the lead when his downward header was stopped by Livakovic in first-half stoppage-time.

Half-time changes pay dividends

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic withdrew Majer and Brozovic in favour of Luca Sucic and Mario Pasalic at the interval and Croatia were immediately on the front foot.

Sucic saw a curling left-footed parried away by Strakosha’s strong hand – their first shot on target – and Pasalic missed the target within five minutes of he restart while Kovacic saw a 25-yard drive deflected into the arms of the keeper.

A Sucic cross was headed over by Petkovic while Luka Modric’s curling corner to the near post was somehow headed wide by Josip Sutalo from two yards out.

Ivan Perisic saw a deflected strike claimed by Strakosha before Albania launched their first attack of the half with Asllani working room to fire in a 25-yard effort which was dealt with by Livakovic.

Nedim Bajrami lashed wide of the angle of post and bar on 68 minutes after being held up well by Josko Gvardiol but it was mainly one-way traffic.

The Albanian resistance was finally broken on 74 minutes when the ball was worked into Kramaric who turned and pulled a low shot through the legs of defender Hysaj and inside the near post past the unsighted keeper.

A superb hand by Strakosha prevented an immediate second as he slid out to thwart sub Ante Budimir but within two minutes Croatia were ahead when Budamir bustled to the byline and squared to Luka Sucic who saw his shot blocked by skipper Berat Djimsiti, only for the ball to cannon into the net off the knee of back-tracking midfielder Gjasula.

Late drama

Croatia saw to put the game on ice and Modric fizzed a low effort past the post but Livakovic had to get down well in the dying seconds to keep ALbania at bay while sub Mirlind Daku saw a shot blocked and hooked the rebound over.

The frantic finale came to a crescendo when Gjasula burst into the box leaving his marker in his wake to side-foot home a low pull-back from the left byline to stun the World Cup 2018 runners-up.

There was still time for Kovacic to test Strakosha from distance before the final whistle ensured a point apiece which really helps neither side’s hopes of progressing.

Picture of Alex Hoad

Alex Hoad

Alex has more than 15 years' experience in sports journalism and has reported on multiple Olympics, World Cups and European Championships in additional to Champions League, Europa League and domestic football.