Soccer-Albania score stoppage time equaliser to hold careless Croatia

  • Football
  • Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group B - Croatia v Albania - Hamburg Volksparkstadion, Hamburg, Germany - June 19, 2024 Albania's Taulant Seferi in action with Croatia's Luka Modric REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) -Albania snatched an equaliser in added time for a stunning 2-2 draw against Croatia in a thrilling European Championship contest on Wednesday, but the result left both countries with a tall order if they are to progress to the last-16.

Klaus Gjasula proved both hero and villain, bagging the added time leveller after having earlier netted an own goal that saw Croatia go 2-1 up in the Group B clash at the Volksparkstadion.

Both countries now have a single point after their opening two matches and are left effectively needing to win their last group games on Monday if they are to progress into the knockout stage.

No team has made the next round with just two draws since the Euro finals expanded to 24 teams in 2016 -- offering a place in the last-16 to the four best third-placed finishers.

Albania had taken an early lead but the Croats scored twice in the space of two minutes to revive their hopes in a match full of twists and turns and played to a backdrop of ear-splitting noise.

Andrej Kramaric grabbed a 74th minute equaliser and then followed an own goal from Gjasula 120 seconds later as an increasingly dominant Croatia, who lost 3-0 to Spain in their opening game, clawed their way back.

They had pounded away at the Albania goal in the second half after looking anxious and frustrated at halftime as their unfancied opponents went into the break ahead.

Qazim Laci’s 11th minute header put Albania in an early lead, as had been the case against Italy in their opening game when they scored after just 23 seconds.

This time they were a touch tardy, weathering early pressure before Jasir Asani whipped in a cross from the right that Laci got a glancing head to before it slipped under goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

The Croat keeper could have done better but made up for the slip with two key saves later in the first half, denying Kristjan Asllani and then stopping Rey Manaj’s diving header as Albania came close to doubling their lead.

Albania’s gritty determination - and the speed with which they seized counterattacking opportunities - belied their lowly ranking, some 56 places below 10th placed Croatia.

A double change at the break for Croatia was followed by intense pressure on the Albania goal with Thomas Strakosha saving from Luka Sucic and Mateo Kovacic to keep the lead intact right until the 74th minute when Kramaric, on his 33rd birthday, netted from close range.

He shot through the legs of Elseid Hysaj while wrongfooting Strakosha.

Then came the own goal as Ante Budimir’s shot, set up by Mario Pasalic's pull back from the byline, was blocked by Berat Djimsiti only for the rebound to hit Gjasula and go into his own net.

But Albania were not to be outdone and Gjasula sidefooted into the net with five minutes of additional time already played for a dramatic conclusion to the contest.

"This is why everyone loves football. In the last seconds, sometimes you score a goal to win, sometimes you concede," said Kramaric.

Albania finish their group schedule against Spain in Duesseldorf on Monday and Gjasula said they held out hope.

"We know that the game with Spain is very difficult but in football everything is possible. If we will play like today everything can happen,” he told reporters.

Croatia will meet Italy in Leipzig at the same time with the odds against them.

"The first half was very bad but the second much better, which is encouraging for the match with Italy," added Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. "We are still in the game, we shall prepare and do all in our power to go on."

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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