Italy's Euro 2012 hopes were in
the balance after they let Croatia off the hook on Thursday,
dominating the first half and taking the lead before tiring and
being held to a 1-1 draw in their Group C match.
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo capped a majestic first-half
performance by curling home a free-kick in the 39th minute as
Italy took the game by the scruff of the neck and created a
hatful of opportunities.
But their failure to take other chances, with Mario
Balotelli the chief culprit, cost them dear when Mario Mandzukic
punished slack marking by firing an equaliser in the second half
of a game marred by Croatia fans throwing flares onto the pitch.
Slaven Bilic's team have four points from two games while
Italy have two points. Spain, who have one point, face pointless
Ireland in Gdansk later on Thursday.
Italy, whose open approach has provided a refreshing break
from their traditional style of dour defence, had also let a
one-goal lead slip against Spain, when they also started well
but drew 1-1.
Coach Cesare Prandelli, whose team next face an Ireland side
coached by his wily compatriot Giovanni Trapattoni, said they
should have shown more of a killer instinct.
"When a side plays football, creates a lot of chances, they
need to kill off the game but football is unique in the sense
that one cross can ruin everything you've built up over the
game," he said.
"We're still in this but we have wasted an opportunity
"There is a drop in our standard after the 60th minute," he
added. "We need to see how we can manage our energy levels... I
don't know why this is, when you're analysing the game you are
not looking for justifications."
Italy stuck with their potentially brilliant but explosive
pairing of Balotelli and Antonio Cassano in attack and, with
Pirlo spraying passes around at will, they easily opened up the
However, Balotelli, in particular, was guilty of wasting
chances. Having forced Stipe Pletikosa into an early save with a
snap shot, he wasted a tremendous chance when, after been picked
out unmarked by Cassano, he dallied over his shot, giving the
Croatia keeper a chance to make the save.
He then blew another chance when, with four players unmarked
in the area, he tried to beat two defenders, slipped and lost
Lively midfielder Claudio Marchisio fizzed a 25-metre shot
just over the bar and then forced a brilliant double-save by
Pletikosa who dived at his feet to block the first effort and
did the same from the rebound.
Italy were rewarded when the evergreen Pirlo curled a free-kick into the left hand corner from 25 metres six minutes before
half-time. It was the first European Championship goal scored
direct from a free-kick since 2004.
Cassano nearly grabbed a second goal for Italy before the
break when he headed over from a corner but the second half was
a different affair.
Croatia midfielder Luka Modric sounded the first warning
shot when he fired over following the interval and, after
Balotelli had scraped the bar with a ferocious 25-metre drive,
Mandzukic levelled in the 72nd minute.
Ivan Strinic's long cross from the left picked out an
unmarked Mandzukic, who had time to bring the ball down and
score off the inside of the near post.
"We dropped too deep and we had to suffer a bit," said
Italy ended up having to cling on for a point as the fitter
Croatians, backed by a large contingent of noisy fans, finished
"We weren't good enough in the first half but we regrouped
at halftime and in the second half we dominated and got a
deserved equaliser," said Croatia defender Vedran Corluka whose
side face Spain in their last game.
"We still have work to do in our last group match against
Spain but we are confident of progressing to the quarter-finals
after this hard earned point."
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