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Croatia recover to earn draw

Published: June 15, 2012 | 10:08 am
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Italy Italy 1 - 1 Croatia Croatia

Italy and Croatia must wait until the final round of Group C matches to learn their Euro 2012 fate after a 1-1 draw at Poznan’s Stadion Miejski.

Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo gave Italy the lead on 39 minutes after a spell of dominant play when he swept a delightful free-kick over the Croatian wall and into the net with goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa beaten low to his right-hand post.

Croatia emerged a lot brighter in the second period and earned a merited point when Mario Mandzukic controlled Ivan Strinic’s cross on 72 minutes and smashed the ball high into the goal from close range after central defender Giorgio Chiellini somehow missed the high ball in the heart of his box.

It was Mandzukic’s third goal of the finals and leaves him alongside Mario Gomez of Germany and Russia’s Alan Dzagoev as the top goalscorer at the tournament.

Croatia top Group C with four points from two games while Italy have two points after two draws, but the Italians will be quietly confident of progressing to the quarter-finals.

If world champions Spain win their final two games of the section against Republic of Ireland tonight and Croatia on Monday, they would go through as group winners with Italy needing a win over Republic of Ireland in their final match to join them.

Croatia remain unbeaten in all four competitive matches against Italy: 2-1 at 2002 World Cup, 2-1 and 1-1 in qualifying for Euro 1996 and now 1-1 at Euro 2012.

Italy have also failed to win any of their past six matches at the European and World Cup finals, but they will not be too displeased with their form having followed up a 1-1 draw against Spain with a diligent performance against a dangerous Croatia side.

Italy certainly enjoyed the better moments in the first period, starting when Mario Balotelli swivelled in the box to slip a shot wide of goal on three minutes before Antonio Cassano screwed an effort past a post ten minutes before half-time.

Pirlo scored the first goal direct from a free-kick at the European Championship finals since 2004 when he struck moments before half-time after Pletikosa made a commendable double save to keep out Claudio Marchisio.

The second period was disrupted by a series of silly fouls while Croatian fans sporadically interrupted the play by throwing on flares, but Croatia – convincing 3-1 winners over Ireland on Sunday evening – were good for their equaliser when it came.

The one worrying incident for manager Slaven Bilic – who departs his post to take over Lokomotiv Moscow after these finals – was the sight of Mandzukic being forced off injured in stoppage time after a strong challenge involving Chiellini.

Croatia will need all of their assets close at hand when they are confronting a Spanish side who will need a win from that match to continue their defence of the tournament they won in 2008.


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