It all looked good for Cesare Prandelli’s side in the first half, which they dominated from the off before taking a deserved 39th-minute lead when Andrea Pirlo curled an exquisite free-kick over the wall and into the net. But Croatia improved after the break, and Slaven Bilic’s side drew level via Mario Mandzukic’s third goal of the tournament to keep Croatia top of Group C and leave Italy’s qualification hopes in doubt. Here we look at some of the issues that came out of events in Poznan on Thursday.
Same again does not quite pay off
Against Spain, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli had midfielder Daniele De Rossi in a back three and five across the middle to combat the world champions’ attacking potential. By and large it paid off, Italy had a good point, and Prandelli went for the same again with Andrea Barzagli still injured. But while it was essential not to lose to Spain, Italy could have done with all three points against Croatia so would safety-first do it for the Azzurri? They imposed themselves well from the start and Croatia’s direct attacking style gave them the chance to hit back. But fatally they sat on their lead in the second half and paid the price for absorbing Croatian pressure, seemingly unwilling to extend their lead. Whether they can throw caution to the wind looking for a win against Ireland will be fascinating.
The question “Which Mario Balotelli will turn up today?” will probably be asked as long as the enigmatic striker plays the game. There were no fireworks (apart from the flares thrown by Croatian fans later on) from the Man City man, but plenty of typical touches – both good and bad. He veers between strangely hesitant in front of goal to shoot-on-sight, but what he does do well is cover the width of the pitch, dragging defenders with him. If only his shooting radar was ‘on’, two shots out of five on target tells a story. Substituted again, but his reaction looked to be better than on Sunday. Italy need better from him against Ireland – if selected.
Pirlo pulling strings
After setting up Italy’s goal with a deft touch on Sunday, Pirlo pulled the strings in the Italian midfield and scored with a superb strike to show that age is no barrier to a player as classy as this. A lovely ball to set up Balotelli on 14 minutes was a typical touch in an influential display that deserved a moment as special as the goal. Elsewhere, he provided a masterclass in the simple things – keeping the ball and finding your team mates, something England struggled to do at times against France. English fans will hope their creative players will have taken note of Pirlo’s display.
Croatia change it
Slaven Bilic had derided Ireland’s inability to change their approach in the opening game and he showed his tactical acumen here to switch his system at half-time. Croatia appeared to believe a broad 4-4-2 system would be enough to expose makeshift centre-back De Rossi in the first half but that approach played into Italy’s hands as they always had the spare man. Bilic got both Nikica Jelavic and Mandzukic running the channels more after the interval and ensured more support in the form of Luka Modric. It paid off as they seized the initiative in the game.
One of the features of the first half was the presence of the Italy wing-backs Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giacherini in advanced roles giving Prandelli’s men genuine width. After the interval, Croatia’s full-backs managed to impose their will on the game and meant the wing-backs were pushed back and effectively Italy became a 5-3-2. Ivan Strinic and Darijo Srna helped turn the game around were key players in a hard-fought second half.
There has only been one penalty so far in Euro 2012 – in the opening game when the spot-kick of Giorgos Karagounis for Greece was saved. This statistic remains after today’s game, with the closest shout being when Jelavic and Giorgio Chiellini tussled for the ball in the Italy box in the first half only for Howard Webb to blow for an Italian free-kick. The English referee also waved away an appeal from Antonio Cassano early in the second period as the lack of penalties in the tournament continues. Perhaps referees have been told from above to keep the spot-kicks to a minimum?
Flares were thrown onto the pitch twice in the second half by Croatia fans in Poznan, causing play to be stopped both times. The second incident was worse, with it difficult to make the players out through the thick smoke. While authorities will look how to stop this happening in future, it appears to be proving hard to clamp down upon.