Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Luca Cetta On June - 15 - 2012

Draw Leaves Italian Advance On Knife Edge

Italy were pegged back for the second consecutive match as they drew 1-1 with Croatia in their Euro 2012 Group C encounter in Poznan.

A vibrant Italy took command of the opening 45 minutes and were rewarded when Andrea Pirlo curled in a free kick, only for Mario Mandzukic to equalise with 20 minutes remaining. The result leaves Italy in a must-win situation against the Republic of Ireland.

Italy started brightly, with Mario Balotelli and Claudio Marchisio each having chances to fire the Azzurri into the lead. Marchisio was notably denied by Croatia’s Stipe Pletikosa from close range. Pirlo opened the scoring with a sublime free kick in the 39th minute, a just reward for Italy’s impressive first half showing.

However, after the break Croatia came out desperate for an equaliser with Luka Modric having two efforts at goal. The equaliser arrived on 72 minutes as Giorgio Chiellini misjudged a cross and Mandzukic smashed home with the aid of the post, leaving Italy on two points.

Following their encouraging draw with Spain, Cesare Prandelli opted for an unchanged line-up. Yet Italy continued their winless streak in major tournament second group matches, a run which now stretches back to Euro 2000, as this echoed memories of the Euro 2004 contest versus Sweden in which Italy initially dominated but failed to put to bed, leaving qualification down to the wire.

Antonio Cassano and Balotelli’s burgeoning partnership grew and their fantastic movement throughout the first half dragged the Croatian defenders out of shape. Pirlo completed a match-high 67 passes, with Marchisio and Thiago Motta able midfield partners, allowing Italy to utilise the advancing wingbacks and take control of the contest.

After the break Italy could not find their rhythm. They were pegged back by the Croatians, who made a tactical adjustment to play three in midfield, nullifying Italy. The Azzurri again showed tiredness as the half progressed, with Prandelli then choosing Riccardo Montolivo over the energy of Antonio Nocerino for his first substitution. Antonio Di Natale attempted to play the same role as the opener, but with he and Sebastian Giovinco on the pitch the high balls and crosses had little effect.

Balotelli looked sharper in this contest as he troubled the Croatians on occasion, but needed to find the back of the net to aid his confidence. He was not alone in that regard as teammates were also guilty of lacking a clinical edge in front of goal. Italy at times opted for a pass too many, as evidenced once in each half. Firstly, when Cassano had time and space on the edge of the penalty area but elected to find Balotelli and late in the second half when Di Natale and co. were in each other’s path.

At the other end, Gianluigi Buffon and his three defenders looked comfortable for the most part, even if Croatia did apply added pressure as the match wore on. Chiellini admitted guilt for his part in the equaliser, misjudging the flight of the cross, however he and Leonardo Bonucci were generally solid yet again, with Daniele De Rossi continuing his fine work as the sweeper. All three were useful outlets to begin attacking thrusts, all above 80% pass accuracy and in the top five passes completed for the Azzurri.

Italy now requires no less than a win over Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland. Andrea Barzagli is in line to return which could mean a reshuffle but the 3-5-2 is set to remain. Trapattoni’s side have struggled, with nothing but pride left to play for now. Put simply, if Italy want to go far they need to be defeating sides of this ilk. It is set up for a fascinating end to the group - with Spain and Croatia both not yet assured of a knockout stage position - after a frustrating affair and thoughts of what could have been.

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