LEIPZIG: Write off Italy at your peril. The enduring ability of the Azzurri to dig up a winning edge proved even too much for the legend that is Luka Modric on the concluding night of action in Group B at the UEFA Euro finals.

Croatia’s veteran captain had recovered from missing a penalty to strike the opportunist goal which secured a second-half lead over the European champions in Leipzig. That lead lasted until the seventh minute of stoppage time when Modric’s effort was squared by substitute Mattia Zaccagni.

The draw confirmed Italy in second place in Group B behind Spain who extended their 100pc record, simultaneously, by defeating a tiring Albania 1-0 in Dusseldorf. Croatia were left sitting on two points which will almost not be sufficient to conjure up a miracle from the best third-place system.

Modric had become the oldest player, at 38 years 298 days, to score a goal at the Euro finals but the dejection on his face as he was presented with the man of the match award said everything.

One consequence of the night’s turn of results was that England, France and Netherlands progressed to the next round before their final group matches.

Croatia went close in the opening minutes when Luka Sucic drew a flying save from Italy captain Gianluigi Donnarumma but then the rest of the first half was mostly Italy. Lorenzo Pellegrini was wide with a diving header, Mateo Retegui headed wide from a Riccardo Calafiori cross and Alessandro Bastoni saw a header pushed over the bar by keeper Dominik Livakovic.

Croatia were a different team after the interval. A handball award against Davide Frattesi produced a penalty which Modric took only to see Donnarumma diving left to save. Croatia’s captain, undeterred, then turned up to equalise after all when Donnarumma could only parry an effort from substitute Ante Budimir.

Italy had no alternative but to plough forward. Bastoni and Giacomo Raspadori both went close but as stoppage time ran on so Croatia’s substitutes took to their feet for a celebration which never came: Calafiori charged up out of central defence and served up the opportunity for substitute Zaccagni to curl a perfect shot beyond the desperate left hand of Livakovic and back inside the far post.

Delierium among the Italians, Croatia’s players and coaching staff utterly distraught. Modric said: “Football was merciless with us tonight, it was cruel. It is hard when you lose like this to describe how you feel. The football gods don’t always smile on us.”

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