Croatia and Italy entered their do-or-die game with a knockout round spot on the line. Croatia needed a win to advance as one of the second-place teams — finishing third with only two points would likely not be enough. Italy could earn an automatic knockout round bid by winning or drawing against Croatia. If Spain beat Albania, Italy could even earn a spot as one of the best third-placed teams even if they lost.

“We are ready. Everyone is healthy except for [AEK Athens center-back Domagoj] Vida. We are aware of the situation we are in, that only a win will do, and we have to achieve that,” manager Zlatko Dalić said before the match.

“We don’t want to go home this early, but in the first two matches, we didn’t get the necessary result, so we have to do it now. Croatia has always been strong in such matches, the crucial ones, so we are going to fight.”

Modric goal gives Croatia the lead

Croatia started the game dominantly, controlling possession and making several dangerous attacks in a way we didn’t see from them this past tournament. Winger Luka Sučić nearly powered an impressive effort from beyond the box, which surprised goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Donnarumma barely did enough to tip over the shot.

However, Italy slowly made their mark on the game, slowing the tempo and making full use of Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. Italy could have been two or three goals up by the end of the first half if not for a mixture of poor shooting and solid goalkeeping from Dominik Livakovic. Center-back Alessandro Bastoni probably should have scored when he headed in a Barella cross with only Livakovic to beat. However, Livakovic reacted superbly to bat the ball out of bounds.

Croatia pulled through with a thrilling sequence of events starting in the 52nd minute when striker Andrej Kramaric drilled a shot toward the net. Midfielder Davide Frattesi conceded a vital penalty after he accidentally lifted his hand to block the shot. Modrić saw his low, rolling penalty stopped by the in-form Donnarumma and cleared by the Italian defense.

However, Croatia kept up the pressure, and two minutes later, Modrić redeemed himself. Sucic sent a cross to striker Ante Budimir, whose effort was, again, stopped by Donnarumma. However, Modric scampered after the rebound and blasted his shot into the top-left corner which even Donnarumma couldn’t reach. Modric, who turns 39 in September, became the oldest goalscorer in Euros history, passing Ivica Vastić of Austria.

Thrilling Zaccagni equalizer sends Italy through

With the goal and Spain’s 1-0 lead over Albania, Croatia would earn an automatic bid. Italy would drop to third place and wait if their three points would be good enough to advance.

For a long time, it looked like Croatia would escape yet again. Modrić and Croatia looked comfortable under the pressure of Italy’s frenzied attacks. At times, Italy looked disconnected and even bored of the game at times. There was a certain laziness about the Italian side; hesitating to fight for 50/50 balls, the slow defending that led to Modrić’s goal, and the non-aggression of the forward line.

Bastoni had another golden chance to equalize for Italy right after the Croatia goal. Barella sent a great corner cannoning towards Bastoni, towering over his Croatian marker. However, Bastoni couldn’t steer his attempt on target as Livakovic could only watch.

Despite positive build-up from Italy, the Azzurri could not find an end product to their biting attacks. Italy flung all of its players forward in the 98th minute. Center-back Riccardo Calafiori, widely regarded as Italy’s best defender at the Euros, led a last-ditch charge towards the goal. His run through the midfield sucked in several Croatian defenders, leaving super-sub Mattia Zaccagni open with time to launch the last kick of the game toward goal.

Zaccagni curled his effort with one simple touch of the ball towards the top right corner, leaving Livakovic with no chance to get a touch on the ball. The Croatians collapsed with exhaustion and tears, knowing that two points likely won’t be enough to advance.

What’s next for Croatia, Italy

With the draw against Croatia, Italy will face Switzerland in the round of 16. The Swiss are a tough opponent who have put in good showings against Hungary and Germany and are extremely unlucky to not have taken a win against Scotland.

Manager Luciano Spalletti has been criticized for his game management and not playing in more rapidly down the stretch. He must silence the questions surrounding Italy’s frail defense with a win over Switzerland.

Croatia are all but eliminated from the tournament. No team has qualified for the knockout rounds as a third-placed team with two points since the tournament expanded to 24 teams.

“Football can be very cruel,” a tearful Modrić said. Modrić was substituted before the goal and cried on the sideline after Zaccagni scored. “I want to play football forever, but we know that this is impossible. One day I will have to announce my retirement from playing, but I do not know when that will be”.