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Italy and Croatia play out a draw
Published : 14 Jun 2012 19:49:19Rss feed
Mario Mandzukic scored his third goal in two Euro 2012 games to leave Croatia and Italy's quarter-final hopes on a knife-edge after they drew 1-1.
Croatia went into the Group C encounter knowing a win over Italy would guarantee them a last-eight place, but they were decidedly second best in the opening 45 minutes at Poznan's Municipal Stadium.
Italy deservedly led at the half-time interval courtesy of Andrea Pirlo's stunning free-kick, but were never the same attacking force in the second period, allowing Mandzukic to equalise in the 72nd minute.
With four points from two matches, Croatia now face a challenging final clash with reigning world and European champions Spain. As for Italy, who have now drawn both of their matches, they know they will have to beat the Republic of Ireland on Monday to be in with a chance of a quarter-final spot.
Although Italy coach Cesare Prandelli remains unbeaten in competitive internationals with eight wins and four draws, he will likely feel this was a game that should have been won in the first half, with Claudio Marchisio shaving the crossbar with a rasping 20-yard drive.
Italy, though, retained their stranglehold on the game in the second period. After a delightful touch to leave Darijo Srna for dead inside the area following a through ball from Antonio Cassano, Marchisio's initial left-foot shot was superbly saved by Stipe Pletikosa, who then blocked the follow-up at point-blank range.
But with the danger still present, Ivan Ratikic fouled Mario Balotelli on the edge of the area, allowing Pirlo to whip a 21-yard right-foot free-kick over the wall and inside Pletikosa's right-hand post. It left Slaven Bilic's side going into the break knowing they had to up the tempo and chase the game in the second half, which they at least started with greater urgency.
But after Luka Modric first fired a 20-yard shot a yard over the bar the encounter turned scrappy, dominated by niggly fouls and challenges until Balotelli came within inches with a fierce drive on the hour.
Then finally, in the 72nd minute, Croatia made their presence felt in the right way as their two-goal hero from the 3-1 win over the Republic of Ireland struck again.
Ivan Strinic's ball from deep on the left wing was missed by Giorgio Chiellini, allowing Mandzukic to control and beat the advancing Gianluigi Buffon in off the right-hand post from six yards.
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