PREVIEW | Italy v Croatia EURO2024

Italy’s final EURO2024 group game on Monday might have decided if they would win Group B. Instead, it could be the game that sends them home. A wake-up call at the hands of Spain on matchday 2 means Italy have found themselves in a fight for tournament survival and lacking in confidence.

The Azzurri’s campaign has been one of very mixed emotions so far. From voices at home to the body language of Luciano Spalletti on the touchline, moments of joy have been followed by frustration and even despair.

Albeit against a lower ranked Albania side, at times in the first group match Italy looked extremely dominant, and perhaps more importantly, like they had found their identity and way of playing. They pressed ferociously in packs, looked calm and patient in possession and on another day might have won that game by more goals.

Then in the second group game, Spain made Italy look like a lower ranked team themselves. The pressers became the pressed as Spanish red suffocated the white jerseys of Italy and brought an entire nation back down to earth with a large thud.

This Italian manager, style and team line-up is very new, and many selection questions remain. Tournament football is unforgiving and there is a fine line between a side that looks set to go all the way and one that has already packed their bags. There is no league season to recover lost points here.

As horrible as it was for Italians to watch their ‘1-0 thrashing’ by Spain, you do get the sense that if it clicked for Italy and both teams met later in the competition that things could still be very different. Perhaps a tactical tweak here and a personnel change there could make all the difference.

Italy at their worst still stayed in the game for the distance, thanks to a bit of luck and a strong display from goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma it has to be said. We cannot forget though, that this side failed to qualify for two World Cup’s either side of their EURO2020 triumph and that the unpredictable should probably be expected, whether that is remarkable or harrowing.

Italy had an xG of just 0.16 against Spain and in all honesty it felt like they could barely make it out of their own half. The opening match victory in Dortmund was soon forgotten and you would be forgiven for thinking that Italy’s performance against Spain is not one of a tournament contender.

Yet, a return to form and a victory over Croatia on Monday could swing the momentum back in Italy’s favour as they approach the last 16. A draw against the Balkan side would also be enough to see them through to the next round, but a defeat would mean disaster, and quite possibly an early exit depending on other results.

Croatia come into this game in rather frantic form themselves. The World Cup semi finalists lost 3-0 to Spain on mathday one and then conceded a late equaliser to draw with Albania 2-2. They have to beat Italy if they want to continue their EURO2024 journey.

A balanced Italian performance will be enough to win or draw against a Croatia team who have been far too open at the back. They have conceded four big chances in each group game and letting a goal in so late against Albania will have been a tough pill to swallow.

An OK performance and a draw will see Italy through, but it will not be enough to make Italians believe that they can go the whole way in this tournament, nor will the players feel very confident about their form ahead of the next game. This team needs to be convincing and win the game to carry any sort of momentum forward. Italy has the potential to compete for this title but things need to change very quickly if they are to do so.

Joseph O’Sullivan | GIFN

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