Euro 2024: Spain opens campaign with statement 3-0 win over Croatia

Spain kicked off its Euro 2024 campaign with a statement 3-0 win over Croatia to earn a vital three points in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death.’

La Roja was out of the blocks rapidly and made Croatia pay for a sluggish start. First-half goals from Álvaro Morata, Fabián Ruiz and Dani Carvajal – fresh from scoring in the Champions League final – opened up a dominant lead that the Kockasti never looked like coming back from.

As well as Spain and Croatia, Group B also features defending champion Italy – all three teams are ranked in the top 10 of FIFA’s world rankings – and surprise package Albania, which finished top of its qualifying group ahead of Czechia and Poland.

It was an uncharacteristically sloppy start for a vastly experienced Croatia side, which has punched above its weight at international tournaments in recent years, reaching the final and then the semifinal at consecutive World Cups.

The midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić alone boasted 372 caps for Croatia but were largely ineffective throughout.

The Croatian defense was pulled apart with ease for the opening goal just before the half hour mark, allowing Morata to run through on goal from Ruiz’s pass and calmly slot the ball past Dominik Livaković.

Carvajal slides in to give Spain a 3-0 lead. - Fabian Bimmer/Reuters
Carvajal slides in to give Spain a 3-0 lead. - Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

That strike moved the 31-year-old up to joint-third on the all-time scoring list at European Championships with seven goals, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Michel Platini.

The next goal came just three minutes later as Ruiz danced around weak challenges from Modrić and Brozović on the edge of the area before drilling the ball low into the bottom corner.

Carvajal then made it three on the stroke of half-time, timing his run perfectly to slide into the six-yard box and turn Lamine Yamal’s pinpoint cross past Livaković.

Both teams had plenty of chances to add to the scoreline in the second half, but were thwarted by poor finishing and a brilliant save from Livaković which denied Barcelona youngster Yamal a record-breaking goal.

Croatian fans thought they at least had a moment to cheer in the closing stages when Bruno Petković scored at the second attempt after seeing his initial penalty saved.

However, the video assistant referee (VAR) ruled that Ivan Perišić had encroached into the area during the spot kick before he squared the ball back to Petković.

It capped a miserable afternoon for Croatia and the team will have to improve dramatically when it faces Albania and Italy to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Italy vs. Albania

Defending champion Italy had to come from a goal behind to earn an unconvincing 2-1 against win against Albania.

An early Azzurri error gifted Albania the lead after just 23 seconds, as Nedim Bajrami pounced to score the fastest goal in European Championship history.

However, two goals in the space of five minutes from Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolò Barella quickly turned the game on its head and Italy was able to hold on for three important points in the ‘Group of Death.’

Though far from a vintage Italian performance, this team is vastly experienced and knows how to defend a lead and see out a game when it matters the most.

Next up will be the far greater challenge of Spain when the two teams meet in a crunch clash on Thursday, with a winner guaranteed a place in the knockout stages.

Italy’s night got off to the worst start imaginable when Federico Dimarco’s errant throw-in went straight to Bajrami’s feet, allowing the forward to shift the ball to his right and hammer his effort in at the near post.

Barella celebrates with his teammates after scoring Italy's second. - Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
Barella celebrates with his teammates after scoring Italy's second. - Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

But Italy found an equalizer only 10 minutes later after poor defending left Bastoni completely unmarked at the far post to head home from Lorenzo Pellegrini’s cross.

Barella’s goal five minutes later capped a frenzied opening 15 minutes, hitting a crisp strike past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha after the ball had bounced around inside the penalty area.

The Kuqezinjtë applied plenty of pressure in the closing stages and Italy had goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to thank for keeping out Rey Manaj’s effort when the Albania forward was through on goal.

It was stoic performance in the second half from Albania, the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament, and the players lined up in front of their fans to soak in the applause in what is only the country’s second appearance at a European Championship.

Hungary vs. Switzerland

First-half goals from Kwadwo Duah and Michel Aebischer set Switzerland on course for a crucial, hard-fought 3-1 win over Hungary in Group A.

Barnabás Varga pulled a goal back for a much improved Hungary in the second half, but Breel Embolo capitalized on a defensive error to put the game beyond doubt in stoppage time.

Michel Aebischer celebrates after scoring Switzerland's second goal. - Darko Vojinovic/AP
Michel Aebischer celebrates after scoring Switzerland's second goal. - Darko Vojinovic/AP

It was an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive performance from the Magyars, who qualified for Euro 2024 unbeaten after conceding just seven goals in eight games.

Though the team improved as the match wore on, an experienced Swiss side weathered the storm after Varga’s goal gave Hungary some momentum, before Embolo – whose thigh strapping fell off as he ran through on goal – coolly lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi following Attila Fiola’s errant header.

The win puts Switzerland second in Group A behind Germany following Die Mannschaft’s big 5-1 win over Scotland on Friday.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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