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Euro 2024: Gjasula redeems himself with late equaliser as Albania hold Croatia 2-2

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Hamburg (Germany), June 19 (IANS) Klaus Gjasula turned hero from villain in the same match as he scored a late equaliser to cancel out his own goal earlier in the match as Albania fought back to hold Croatia to a 2-2 draw in a Group B match of the Euro 2024 here on Wednesday.

Gjasula's last-gasp strike, coming in the fifth minute of second-half added time helped Albania gain one point in Euro 2024.

Croatia, who lost 3-0 to Spain in their opening match, produced a much-improved second-half showing in Hamburg, only to be pegged back at the death by a plucky Albania in Group B – as the near neighbours shared the points in their first-ever meeting.

Having lost their opening group stage matches, both sides knew defeat was no option. And thus, a cagey opening ensued on Wednesday.

Content to slow the tempo, Albania soon became comfortable in possession. And then, almost out of nowhere, Qazim Lac¸i broke free at the near post to glance at Jasir Asani's pinpoint delivery from the right. Another quick-opening goal for Sylvinho's men.

Croatia were momentarily shaken, and the Eagles saw their opportunity to go again. This time, Nedim Bajrami darted into the danger zone, but to the relief of Zlatko Dalic, failed to test Dominik Livakovic´.

Now pressing higher up the pitch, Croatia engineered their first real threat as Marcelo Brozovic's anxious snap-shot flew well wide. Unfazed, Albania continued to push for a second, and in the 31st minute Livakovic´ was forced to deny Kristjan Asllani.

Despite sitting deep to protect their advantage, Albania breached the Brozovic-protected Vatreni back line once more before half-time; however, Livakovic´ dealt with Rey Manaj's close-range header.

With the interval introduction of Mario Pasalic´ and Luka Succic, Croatia produced two decent chances. Thomas Strakosha got a strong hand to Succic´’s powerful shot before Pasalic fired over.

Dalic's team were now enjoying their best spell of the game, and as Albania's energy levels waned, Croatia's threat increased.

The Vatreni were probing for a chink in the Albanian armour, and eventually, in the 74th minute, their breakthrough came. As Albania switched off, Andrej Kramaric found the bottom corner to restore parity – his first EURO goal on his 33rd birthday. Two minutes later, Croatia struck again, Klaus Gjasula deflecting into his own net amid a goalmouth scramble.

Still turning the screw until the full-time whistle, Croatia's tremendous second-half performance looked to have secured them all three points. However, in a dramatic twist, Gjasula – who only came on in the 72nd minute – found redemption by driving in a low last-gasp leveller. Both sides duly claimed their first points of EURO 2024.

--IANS

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