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HAMBURG: Albania left Croatia in danger of a Euro 2024 group stage exit after a thrilling 2-2 draw on Wednesday as Albanian Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic equalizer after injury time.
After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain in the first leg, Croatia fell behind again when Kazim Laci gave Albania an early lead in Hamburg.
But Croatia went ahead after two half-time substitutions, with Andrej Kramarić equalizing with 16 minutes remaining, before Gjasula slotted into his own net.
However, the Albania midfielder became a last-gasp hero, driving into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of stoppage time to steal a point from his team.
Croatia, semi-finalists at the 2022 World Cup, are now likely to have to win their final Group B match against Italy on June 24 to reach the knockout stages for a fifth consecutive major tournament.
Albania won plenty of plaudits with their performances against Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but could not hold on to a lead in either game and will likely need to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive.
Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ were eventually made to pay for a poor performance in the first half and are in danger of limping out of the big football tournament.
Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić decided against changing his formation in relation to the defeat against Spain, sticking with his midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović.
But he brought on Ivan Perisic at left-back, moving Josko Guardiola from Manchester City into central defence.
The smell of smoke from torches filled the air outside the stadium as supporters of both teams created one of the best atmospheres of the tournament so far.
Albania scored the fastest goal in European Championship history after just 23 seconds against Italy and got off to a quick start once again.
It took only 11 minutes for Silvinho’s men to break the deadlock this time, as Sparta Prague midfielder Laci crossed into the area unmarked and headed home Yasir Asani’s perfect cross.
Croatia tried to impose their passing game, but Albania were constantly in their sights and continued to look the more dangerous, with right-back Elseid Hisaj firing on target.
The deficits could have doubled the advantage only after half an hour, but Kristjan Aslani was denied by Dominik Livaković in a face-to-face meeting with the Croatian goalkeeper.
Albanian striker Rei Manaj missed another great chance, failing to get enough headers in the first half which seriously troubled Livakovic.
Dalic responded by making two changes at the interval, bringing on 21-year-old Luka Sucic and Mario Pašalic for the ineffective Lovra Majer and Brozović.
Those substitutions saw Croatia quickly progress, as Albania goalkeeper Tomas Strakoša made a good save from Sučić’s left-footed shot, before Pasalić headed in seconds later.
Albania continued to threaten in the counterattack, and Nedim Bajrami pierced the post in the 67th minute.
But Croatia finally broke through in the 74th minute when substitute Ante Budimir played Kramarić into the box and the forward cut inside before finishing well at Strakoša’s near post.
The turnaround seemed to be complete two minutes later as Sucic’s shot from close range was blocked, but only against the hapless Gjasula and into an empty net.
Albania did not give up, missing a number of chances, as it seemed that Croatia would hold on.
Gjasula, however, had other ideas, slotting home the loose ball before a chaotic display that saw both sides throw bodies forward in search of a winner, but to no avail.

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