Spain eyes record, Italy seeks redemption. Both in Group B at Euro 2024 with Croatia and Albania

Spain and defending champion Italy are the juggernauts but they can’t underestimate the other two teams in Group B at the European Championship.

Croatia has a good pedigree at international tournaments and has impressed at the last two World Cups — both of which Italy failed to qualify for.

Albania has already shown it is capable of pulling off a surprise and will be hoping to do that in just its second-ever European Championship appearance.

Here is a closer look at Group B:


Spain is aiming for a record fourth European Championship title and could turn to two teenagers for help. The 16-year-old Lamine Yamal set up all three of Spain’s goals in a 3-3 draw in a friendly against Brazil in March. His Barcelona teammate, Pau Cubarsi, also played in that match, days after the 17-year-old made his debut as a late substitute in a 1-0 loss to Colombia. That was Spain’s first loss in almost a year, following a run of eight straight wins. The streak included winning the UEFA Nations League, with victories over two of its Group B rivals — Italy in the semifinals and Croatia in a penalty shootout in the final. Spain also topped its qualifying group with seven wins from eight games. All that has helped silence the doubters of coach Luis de la Fuente, who replaced Luis Enrique after Spain’s loss to Morocco in the round of 16 of the world cup in Qatar. The 62-year-old De la Fuente was then relatively unknown in Spain after spending years coaching the nation’s youth squads.


There is a familiar feel to Italy seeking redemption at the European Championship after failing to qualify for the previous World Cup. However, the defending European champion has faced more upheaval over the past year with coach Roberto Mancini quitting and key player Sandro Tonali banned for gambling. Young Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli was also banned but has returned in time to be included in Italy’s provisional squad. In Luciano Spalletti, Italy has a more than adequate replacement for Mancini and he appears to have the Azzurri playing the type of entertaining soccer that saw his Napoli team storm to the Serie A title in 2023. Despite taking over halfway through qualifying, Spalletti steered Italy to second place in its group — behind England. A 0-0 draw against Ukraine secured an automatic spot in Germany, avoiding the playoff scenario that caused it so much heartache in missing out on the past two World Cups.


Brazilian coach Sylvinho and his assistants were granted Albanian citizenship after guiding the tiny Western Balkan country to only its second European Championship. And Albania qualified in style, topping a group that included the Czech Republic and Poland. Sylvinho has drawn on his experiences under Pep Guardiola, whom he played for at Barcelona, and former Brazil coach Tite to create an Albanian team spirit that stresses a “complex” and “collective” game of soccer. That was even more important with players scattered around the world, plying their trade in Italy, Spain, France, England and beyond, not to mention in local leagues. Albania pulled off a shock the last time it qualified, when it beat Romania 1-0 in their final group match. To date, that header from Armando Sadiku is the only goal it has scored in a major tournament.


Over the past six years, Croatia has emerged as a force on the international stage and is a perennial dark horse. It was a surprise runner-up at the 2018 world cup and backed that up with a third-place finish four years later in Qatar, losing only to champion Argentina. Croatia also reached the final of the Nations League, where it was beaten by Spain on penalties. Zlatko Dalić, who is regarded as the greatest Croatian coach of all time, oversaw both those achievements and has been in charge since 2017. He will be hoping for an improvement from Euro 2021, when Croatia was knocked out in the round of 16 — losing to Spain after extra time. Croatia was also eliminated at the same stage in Euro 2016. Captain Luka Modric, who helped Real Madrid win another Champions League title last week, will be making his ninth appearance at a major international tournament.


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