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Albania Joy in Thriller as Croatia’s Golden Era on Brink

Albania Draw 2-2 with Croatia

It may not have been a win, but for Albania, it certainly felt like it. Klaus Gjasula’s 95th-minute equaliser in a 2-2 thriller against Croatia sparked long-lasting celebrations among their fans, who left Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion with the sound of drums and the occasional firecracker.

An early exit from this summer’s European Championship in Germany is still likely for Albania, and they may leave without a win. However, they have shown they are not just here to make up the numbers. After scoring 23 seconds into their Group B opener against Italy, ultimately losing 2-1, they again took the lead in this game and recovered from another turnaround to earn the draw.

“We are proud,” Albania boss Sylvinho said afterward. “The nation should be proud of the result and the performance. The players left everything on the pitch. It was amazing and represents our people.”

While Albania celebrated, the mood was very different for Croatia. Just two years after reaching the World Cup semi-final by beating Brazil, they face the prospect of exiting this tournament at the group stage. At the final whistle, Croatian players dropped to their knees, knowing the damage done.

After two games in Group B, Croatia has just one point and must beat Italy in their final game on Monday to have a chance of progressing.

“The Croatian players were fuming,” ex-Premier League footballer Clinton Morrison said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “They know they have a tough game against Italy, they have to keep believing, but their body language looks like they are out.”

Croatia Approaching the End of the Golden Era?

As deserved as the result was for Albania’s determined display, it raised questions about Croatia. Previously underdogs who shocked big sides, Croatia now finds itself struggling. At the World Cup in 2018, they beat Argentina and England to reach the final, and in 2022, they knocked out Brazil to finish third.

Mercurial Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric played in both those World Cups and is their talisman again here in Germany. However, at 38, and with key players like Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic in their 30s, Croatia’s inability to match Albania’s tempo suggests that their golden generation could be on their way out.

“The World Cup was two years ago and our players are getting older,” said Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic. “But this tournament has shown us that everyone is having a hard time. For Portugal, it was difficult to get a win against the Czech Republic and also for England against Serbia, so this tournament is really open, and all teams are pretty equal.”

Have Croatia Been Unlucky?

While the result against Albania was disappointing, their 3-0 loss to Spain in their opening game was different. That game was evenly matched, but the Spanish took their chances.

“Football is not something you can predict,” said Croatia forward Kramaric. “They [Spain] had three situations and scored three goals. If you look at the statistics, we had more expected goals than them. Sometimes you win, but sometimes you don’t take the goal chance.”

Croatia’s situation places them in a familiar position – the underdogs. This might serve them well as they look to keep their hopes alive by beating Italy.

“We will believe until the very end,” Kramaric added. “We hope to be a bit luckier against Italy. Croatia can never do anything the easy way, we have proved this many times. We will do our best to take these three points.”

Credit: BBC Sport

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