Group C: Italy 1 - 1 CroatiaSun, Jun 17 2012
Mario Mandzukic struck a second-half equaliser to earn Croatia a draw against Italy in Poznan’s Municipal Stadium.
The Wolfsburg striker grabbed his third goal of the competition to cancel out Andreas Pirlo’s free-kick that had rewarded Italy for a dominant first-half display.
The Juventus playmaker had been the central figure in the opening half as the Azzurri set about their Adriatic rivals in an attempt to build on the creditable draw they gained against Spain in their opening game.
Croatia were not short of confidence either after their empathetic victory over Ireland but they struggled in the opening stages to match the intensity of the Italians.
Caesare Prandelli’s game plan seemed to hinge on playing balls over the top that would isolate Mario Balotelli on Vedran Corluka and the tactic was earning results as the Manchester City striker had a couple of early chances that failed to find the Croatian net.
It took the Croats a while to find their feet but they were unlucky not to have a penalty on 20 minutes when Nikita Jelavic tangled with Giorgio Chiellini but referee Howard Webb felt the Everton striker was the transgressor on this occasion.
Slaven Bilic’s men gradually began to gain some possession but the Italians were the ones with the best goal-scoring opportunities as Claudio Marchissio and Antonio Cassano had chances to put the Italians ahead.
The goal eventually came on 30 minutes when Italy were rewarded a free-kick on the edge of the area. Up stepped Pirlo to curl the ball in at the near post despite Stipe Pletikosa getting a hand to it.
The goal spurred the Italian’s on and they were unlucky not to double their advantage when Cassano headed Pirlo’s header wide and the Croatians were grateful to go in at half-time only a goal down.
Bilic resisted the urge to tinker with his side at half-time and his team rewarded his patience by coming out of the blocks in determined fashion.
Luka Modric, who had been strangely subdued in the opening half, had a couple of shots that lacked the required power but galvanised his team as they sought to restore parity.
The Balkans side’s impetus was disrupted by an unusual source as their own fans stopped play by unleashing fire crackers onto the pitch.
Howard Webb was constantly intervening at set pieces as the Italian defence, no doubt wary of the height in the Croatian side, wrestled with their opponents and one wondered would the English official award a penalty as he did in Euro 2008 for the same offence.
Italy soaked up the pressure and looked dangerous on the break when Balotelli had a decent effort that flew just over.
Bilic changed Ivan Perisic for Danijel Pranjic and this seemed to give the Italian defence more problems as they began to drop very deep.
They would come to regret their negative approach as Mandzukic turned in Ivan Rakitic’s cross to convert his first real chance of the game.
Croatia finished the game looking for the goal that would all but guarantee a quarter-final berth but failed to create another decent opportunity to gain a win that, in truth, would have been hard on the Italians.
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon; Maggio, Chiellini, Bonnuci; Marchisio, Motta (Montelivo 62),DeRossi, Pirlo, Giaccherini; Balottelli (DiNatale 69), Cassano (Giovinco 83).
Croatia (4-4-2): Pletikosa; Strinic, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Rakitic; Vukojevic , Modric, Srna, Perisic (Pranjic 68); Mandzukic (Kranjcar 90), Jelavic (Eduardo 83).
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the Match: Andreas Pirlo