Italy held to 1-1 draw by Croatia in Group C
After all the talk about an attacking approach to football,
Italy fell back to its old defensive tactics Thursday – and the
price was a costly 1-1 draw with Croatia.
The Italians let a first-half lead slip away and now may need
help to advance to the European Championship quarterfinals.
Andrea Pirlo gave the Italians the lead with a curving free kick
in the 39th minute, but Mario Mandzukic was left unmarked to
equalize for Croatia in the 72nd.
At the start of the second half, Italy rarely threatened,
instead choosing to absorb Croatia’s attacks. The tactic backfired
when Ivan Strinic launched a long pass from the left flank to
Mandzukic, who had time to control at the edge of the box and shoot
in off the post.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was left wondering if there was a
physical problem with his squad.
”After an hour our physical level drops,” Prandelli said.
”We’ve got to figure out how to manage our energy in the next
match. We’re lacking freshness in that phase of the match.
”We (drew) with a very physical and athletic squad, but we
played much better (than Croatia).”
Italy had numerous other first-half chances from Mario
Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano, but the Azzurri
lacked finishing quality. Balotelli, in particular, appeared
hesitant and missed one opportunity after another. And this time,
second-half replacement Antonio Di Natale never really had a chance
”If you can’t finish it off, of course you’re going to have
regrets,” said Prandelli, who will likely be questioned for
sticking with Balotelli up front.
Having opened with a 3-1 win over Ireland, Croatia has four
points and is tied for the Group C lead with Spain. Italy, which
opened by drawing 1-1 with Spain, has two points and Ireland has
already been eliminated with none.
Spain beat Ireland 4-0 in the other group match Thursday.
”Probably the whole country was not expecting this,” Croatia
coach Slaven Bilic said. ”We have a really good chance of going
In the final round of group matches on Monday, Italy faces
Ireland and Croatia meets world champion Spain. Italy is in a
similar position to Euro 2004, when it won its final group match
after two draws but was eliminated after Denmark and Sweden drew
2-2. That was the first time a team was eliminated from the group
phase without losing.
”I am still convinced we can go through, but we have certainly
wasted an opportunity here,” Prandelli said.
For his goal, Pirlo placed the ball over Croatia’s three-man
wall and just inside the near post. Croatia goalkeeper Stipe
Pletikosa could only get a weak hand on it once the ball was
already inside his net.
”I’m happy for the goal but it’s a shame for the team
performance, because we could have won the game,” Pirlo said. ”We
had chances to finish the game off in the first half but couldn’t
put the ball in the back of the net.”
Italy remains winless against its Mediterranean neighbor in all
six meetings since Croatia declared independence from the former
Yugoslavia in 1991. The Azzurri are also now winless in their
second matches at their last six major tournaments.
Before the match, Croatian fans burned a European Union flag and
paraded around Poznan’s main old town square with posters of a
convicted war criminal. Police, some in riot gear, monitored the
situation, but did not intervene.
Already being investigated for fan behavior in the first match,
Croatian supporters again threw flares on the field several times
in the second half. After Croatia scored, the smoke was so intense
that Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon complained he couldn’t see
and the match was briefly suspended.
On a damp and cool evening at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan,
Croatian fans outfitted like their red-and-white checkered flag
vastly outnumbered Italian supporters.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi,
Leonardo Bonucci, Emanuele Giaccherini, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea
Pirlo, Thiago Motta (Riccardo Montolivo, 62), Christian Maggio,
Antonio Cassano (Sebastian Giovinco, 83), Mario Balotelli (Antonio
Di Natale, 69).
Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa, Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, Gordon
Schildenfeld, Ivan Strinic, Ivan Rakitic, Ognjen Vukojevic, Luka
Modric, Ivan Perisic (Danijel Pranjic, 68), Nikica Jelavic
(Eduardo, 83), Mario Mandzukic (Niko Kranjcar, 90).