Italy and Croatia face off in matchday three at Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, Germany. Both are in the running to advance from Group B alongside Spain, as the Spaniards knocked off both sides in group play. Italy’s 1-0 loss at the hands of Spain happened at the same time as Croatia’s 2-2 draw with Albania. Consequently, Croatia is in a must-win situation, while Italy can reach the round of 16 with a draw.

These two teams have met thrice since 2012, with each contest finishing in a 1-1 draw. If that were to happen on Monday, Italy would be through to the round of 16 in its European Championship title defense. Croatia, the third-place team at the 2022 World Cup and the runner-up in the most recent UEFA Nations League would bow out.

The onus remains on Italy, which fell to Spain in a rematch of the Euro 2020 semifinals. There were positive signs, though, that Italy can take into a crucial game in Euro 2024.

Making the necessary changes

Although Gianluca Scamacca started two games without producing results, the potential of Mateo Retegui and Giacomo Raspadori, as demonstrated when they came off the bench in the second half against Spain, brings a sense of optimism. Their tenacity in hunting down the ball and making clean tackles is a promising sign. Luciano Spalletti will need to rethink his strategy; including Retegui and Raspadori in the lineup for their third match against Croatia seems not just necessary but potentially game-changing.

“Scamacca was not very active; he did not dictate the tempo, suggest a pass, come forward, and he did not attack the depth.” Arrigo Sacchi said. The respected boss coached the Nazionale at Euro 1996 and chimed in with his post-match thoughts about the Atalanta striker.

Gianluca Scamacca, a player with a unique skill set, excels in anticipating rare opportunities for headers and one-touch volleys from crosses. His offensive struggles with hold-up play and inaccurate one-touch passes using the back of his heel compensate for his ability to create opportunities.

Dynamic duo: Retegui and Raspadori

In contrast, Mateo Retegui and Giacomo Raspadori, who came in as substitutes in the second half against Spain, bring a dynamic to the team with their well-rounded styles.

“Retegui and Raspadori were fresh; they pressed more aggressively towards the end.” Spalletti added, “We had the opportunity to gain possession higher up the pitch.”

Retegui and Raspadori are a tag-team duo. They are well-rounded players who intermix a hustling demeanor with footwork and precision. They can be the playmaker and the goal scorer.

“Perhaps I should have changed something in terms of what we saw tonight,” Spalletti said.

Learning from Spain: Italy’s challenge

“We still have the game against Croatia to qualify, plus we will have to show that we have learned the lesson Spain taught us.” Arrigo Sacchi said. The former Euro 1996 coach refused to apportion blame to Luciano Spalletti. Instead, Sacchi emphasized, “Serie A does not help Spalletti; most teams practice an old football, not very in line with European principles.”

The old-fashioned style Sacchi refers to is his own. Arrigo Sacchi famously coached AC Milan before his tenure with La Nazionale. Specifically, in the 1994 World Cup Final, Brazil could not score a goal against Italy in 120 minutes. Contrarily, the Azzurri did not get any credit for absorbing pressure against Spain.

Further, Gianluigi Donnarumma’s crucial saves were world-class. Unsurprisingly, his acrobatic goalkeeping display unfurls before the eyes of Gianluigi Buffon, Spalletti’s assistant coach.

“Croatia will be a different match with different rhythms,” Buffon said. “I am convinced that we will play a different match in the end. The difficulties we had against Spain made us appear below our real level.”

Italy remains defensively strong at Euro 2024

Undoubtedly, Spain was wholly superior in playmaking fluidity. Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize the resilience of the Italian defense. The Azzurri’s ability to hunker down and prevent the Spaniards from scoring a proper goal should instill a sense of reassurance in the team’s capabilities. Over the years, Italy has had success in international tournaments because of a stout defense. At Euro 2020, Italy conceded just four goals, two of which came in the original 90 minutes.

Countless analysts have made hypothetical claims that the final score of 1-0 against Spain should have been much higher. However, such statements dismiss Italy’s defensive skills and impressive goalkeeping. Adversely, had it not been for the soccer gods humbling a hyped-up Riccardo Calafiori with an own goal, the game could have ended in a 0-0 draw.

It was not as if Nico Williams or Lamine Yamal steamrolled through a porous defense to score efficiently. Let us be honest: Spain could not score a traditional goal. Ultimately, ‘La Furia Roja’ should be just as concerned about being prevented from scoring by an elite defense as Italy is about flabbergasted by a fluid offense.

Luka Modrić: The swan song at Euro 2024

Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić, considered the best player in the world in 2018, will likely sing his swan song at Euro 2024. Since 2006, Modrić has made 177 caps for Croatia. The Real Madrid mainstay won back-to-back Champions League titles. The swift midfielder looks to employ his signature style of play, the ‘trivela’ – a technique for the gifted few who curve the ball on long-range shots.

“It will be tough against Italy,” Modrić said. “We will play with no fear. If we do what we know, we can face any opponent confidently.”

The No. 10, a key midfielder in Zlatko Dalić’s standard 4-3-3, is ready to lead the charge. Dalić, the man who famously guided the ‘Checkered Ones’ to the 2018 World Cup Final against France, is no stranger to challenges. His leadership remains steadfast despite unwarranted criticism from the punditocracy, especially at Euro 2024.

“Nobody believes in us, but we have won three medals in the past six years.” Zlatko Dalić said. “Croatia deserves greater respect from everyone else for what we have managed to do.”

Training with Borussia Dortmund

Over the weekend, the Azzurri had a productive training session with a Borussia Dortmund youth team. Among the players who received ample training on the pitch was Raoul Bellanova, a Torino winger whose agent is negotiating a transfer deal with Daniele De Rossi’s Roma. Despite his lack of a left foot, Bellanova’s speed, tenacity on the right flank, and accurate crosses into the box make him a lethal threat.

Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli also saw ample training time, which suggests that mainstays like Jorginho and Federico Chiesa could take the game against Croatia as a rest day in hopes of having fresh legs in the Round of 16.

During the match against Spain, Spalletti allegedly upbraided Jorginho in protest: “He must come and get the ball. Otherwise, there is no point in him playing.”

Jorginho was the fulcrum of Italy’s midfield against Albania. In that match, he completed 131 passes – the most of any player in the tournament. Despite that feat, Spalletti had the temerity to bench the Arsenal midfielder, who displayed an illimitable capacity for playmaking. However, several players need ample time to recover.

Rest assured, defenders like Alessandro Buongiorno and Matteo Darmian can confidently replace the overwhelmed legs of Alessandro Bastoni and Giovanni Di Lorenzo. Both defenders worked tirelessly against Nico Williams and Alvaro Morata and did not receive approbation for preventing them from scoring.

Italy vs. Croatia kicks off on June 24th at 3 p.m. ET at Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, Germany.


Euro 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Euros!
Euro Bracket: Download a free PDF bracket for the tournament
Euro 2024 Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Euro games live in 2024
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer