Luka Modric: 'Football was merciless' as Italy equalise in 98th minute against Croatia

Luka Modric labelled football “cruel and merciless” after Croatia were all but eliminated from Euro 2024 by a 98th-minute Italy equaliser.

Modric’s second-half goal appeared to have sent Croatia through to the knockout stages only for Mattia Zaccagni to level the scores in stoppage time.

The 1-1 draw moved Italy into second place in Group C at Croatia’s expense to ensure they qualified for the last-16. Croatia have a minor possibility of reaching the knockout stages as a best third place side, but having taken just two points from their three group games this remains highly unlikely.

“We kept battling right until the end but unfortunately football was merciless tonight, football was cruel,” Modric said. “Not only today but also in our last game when we conceded a late goal (in the 95th minute against Albania).

“It’s hard when you lose like this to find the words to describe how you feel. Of course we need to bounce back but that’s the way it is. Perhaps it’s unfair because we all fought for Croatia from the first whistle to the last, the footballing gods don’t always smile on us.”

Modric saw a penalty saved by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma early in the second half, before opening the scoring after 55 minutes. Donnarumma had made a reflex stop to deny Ante Budimir, but Modric was quickest to react to poke home the opening goal.

Modric was named man of the match in Leipzig (Boris Streubel – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

At the age of 38 years and 289 days, the goal made the Real Madrid midfielder the oldest player to score at the European Championship, surpassing the previous record set by Austria’s Ivica Vastic at Euro 2008, aged 38 years and 257 days.

The result and Croatia’s anticipated exit could mean Modric has made his final appearance at a major tournament.

“I’d also like to keep playing for ever, but there’ll probably come a time when I have to hang up my boots,” he added. “I’ll keep playing on but I don’t know for how much longer.”

Victory for Croatia would have ensured they progressed to the last-16 as Group B runners up and would have left Italy relying on results elsewhere to qualify as a best third place team.

But substitute Mattia Zaccagni, only introduced in the 82nd minute, bent a first-time effort into the top corner with just one minute of stoppage time remaining.

Asked if it was the unluckiest match of his career, Modric could only compare it to Croatia’s quarter-final loss to Turkey at Euro 2008, where his side thought they had won it with Ivan Klasnic’s 119th-minute goal, only for Semih Senturk to equalise for Turkey in the 122nd minute.

“It’s hard to outdo the Turkey game from 2008, this game probably runs it pretty close,” Modric said. “It’s certainly a very sad day for us and the Croatian national team

Italy will face Group A runners up Switzerland in the last-16 on Sunday.

Croatia finish third in Group B on two points following their draw with Albania and defeat to Spain. Four best third-place teams qualify for the last-16 and only the third place sides in Group F and Group C can mathematically finish below Croatia ahead of their final round of group fixtures.



Croatia 1 Italy 1: The Briefing – Zaccagni goal puts Italy through, Modric’s minute of mayhem and more beer throwing

(Top photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

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