POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 14: Nikica Jelavic of Croatia and Daniele De Rossi of Italy compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Italy and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 14, 2012 in Poznan, Poland. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Italy Vs. Croatia: 1-1 Draw As Croatia Come From Behind

Andrea Pirlo gave Italy a first half lead but they couldn't hold it against a resurgent Croatia. The match ended all square.

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Italy Vs. Croatia, Euro 2012: Final Score, Mandzukic Steals 1-1 Draw

Italy and Croatia played a mostly uneventful match in Poznan on Thursday, but the two goals were impressive and dramatic enough to salvage what was an otherwise average match. Andrea Pirlo put the Italians ahead early in the match, but played poorly in the second half and let Croatia grab an equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Cesare Prandelli surprisingly made no changes to the team that drew Spain, sticking to a three-man back line with Emanuele Giaccherini as a wing back and Mario Balotelli up top. Balotelli looked much more dangerous and energetic than he did in the match against Spain, but was ultimately ineffective and failed to facilitate any clear-cut scoring opportunities.

On Croatia's right flank, Giaccherini was regularly abused by Darijo Srna throughout the first half and Italy were lucky not to concede on a cross from that side. The good news for Italy throughout the match is that this was the only place on the pitch where they were truly outmatched, as Pirlo and the rest of the Italian midfield did well to minimize the impact of Luka Modric and his teammates.

Italy created very little in the first half, but their one goal, a free kick by Pirlo, was absolutely beautiful. From 25 yards out, the Juventus regista curled in a stunning shot that rose up over the wall, then quickly dipped down under the hand of Stipe Pletikosa at the near post. The azzurri were far from impressive at any point in the match, but in the 39th minute, they had a lead.

Croatia were even less lively than the Italians in the first half, but they came out for the second half looking considerably more motivated, while Italy appeared to tap the brakes as they attempted to hold on for a 1-0 victory. They continued to have most of the ball, but didn't look terribly interested in doing much with it, instead content to reinforce every negative stereotype about Italian football.

Their plan nearly worked, but they were undone by a cross and some poor defending by Giorgio Chiellini. The Juventus defender completely misjudged a back post cross by Ivan Strinic in the 72nd minute, allowing the ball to fall right to Mario Mandzukic. His first touch wasn't the best, but he recovered with a fantastic finish to tally his third goal of the tournament and grab a deserved point for Croatia.

The Italians are now in a position where they will need to win their final group game against Ireland to progress to the quarterfinals. Italy will be through with a win unless Spain defeat Ireland, then lose to Croatia. No matter what, they will be out with any other result but a win.

You can find our previous coverage of the match in our Italy vs. Croatia, Euro 2012 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Italy Vs. Croatia, Euro 2012: Mario Mandzukic Evens Things Up For Croatia

With about twenty minutes left to play, Croatia have equalised in Pozan against Italy. Mario Mandžukić, who scared a brace against Ireland, easily shrugged off Giorgio Chiellini to get on the end of an absolutely gorgeous cross by Ivan Strinić.

Italy have looked too cautious in this second half, appearing to want to hold the lead rather than add to it. Croatia, on the other hand, have been intent on causing havoc, whether it's from the midfield play or the flares thrown by their fans. It's the play, though, that has turned Italy on its head, with the azzurri appearing to have no clue which way Croatia plan to send the ball. It was really only a matter of time before someone edged through the three-man Italian defence.

But how will Italy respond? Prandelli has already substituted Riccardo Montolivo for a hurting Thiago Motta, while Antonio Di Natale came on for Mario Balotteli. Will we see Sebastian Giovinco? Or does Cesare have something else up his sleave?


Italy Vs. Croatia, Euro 2012: Andrea Pirlo Free Kick Gives Italy 1-0 Lead At Halftime

Despite the lines you may have been fed from ESPN's commentary team, the first half between Italy and Croatia was fairly evenly matched. The difference? A gorgeous, curling free kick scored by (who else?) Andrea Pirlo. But the pressure was on from both sides -- but it's quite possible that Italy will spend the second half closing down and trying to prevent a Croatia equaliser.

Mario Balotelli, starting again despite failing to impress in the first match, came out intent on proving that he deserved to be included. He had a decent chance in the few minutes, shaking off Vedran Corluka to go just wide of Stipe Pletikosa's goal. But after ten minutes, the hesitant SuperMario we saw in the match against Spain had returned, receiving the ball from Antonio Cassano, taking an extra touch and failing to get in the shot. Claudio Marchisio followed up with a gorgeous shot, but it was over the bar.

On the other end, Howard Webb shrugged away what appeared to be a penalty to everyone except Italia supporters. Giorgio Chiellini and Nikica Jelavic got into a bit of a tussle in front of goal, with the Italian tugging on Chiellini's shirt to haul him down. Others apparently saw the reverse, so we'll just call it a mutual attempted stripping and get on with our lives, shall we?

Webb did manage to enrage Italian fans when Corluka and Ognjen Vukojevic collided, calling the foul against Cassano. Fortunately for Webb, nothing came out of the resulting free kick.

Italy had their best chance in open play 38 minutes in, when Marchisio sent a screamer at the Croatia net. Pletikosa managed to block the ball with his stomach, and somehow recover enough to once again stop Marchisio's second attempt. It seems inevitable that Claudio will find the back of the net.


Italy Vs. Croatia, Euro 2012: Andrea Pirlo Puts Italy Ahead

It took nearly 40 minutes, but Italy finally managed to put the ball past Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. It did take a set piece to break Croatia, however -- but how foolish of them to concede a free kick just twenty yards out when Andrea Pirlo is on the pitch. And what a shot from the midfield maestro! Pirlo's ball curled up through the jumping Croatia wall, took a slight deflection and nestled into the near corner of the net. Perfectly magnificent.

Now, what will be the response? With just a few minutes to go until halftime, Croatia will want to find an equaliser before the break, in order to keep a win within their sights. The Croats were down against Ireland, of course, and we all know how that went, but Shay Given is no Gianluigi Buffon, and it's not going to be an easy task to get even one goal past the fantastic Italian keeper. Changes at the half for Bilić, then?


Italy Vs. Croatia, Euro 2012: Lineups, Both Sides Unchanged From First Group Games

One can forgive Slaven Bilić for not making any changes to the Croatia side that beat Ireland 3-1. They were fast-paced, attacking, and clearly got the job done. But what of Italy manager Cesare Prandelli? His side managed a respectable 1-1 draw against title-holders Spain, but his starting XI were not flawless, not by a long shot.

One of the most obvious weaknesses in the side he's trotting out against Croatia is the presence of Emanuele Giaccherini on the left wing. Yes, it's a rags-to-riches story, with Giaccherini, having been in Lega Pro just a few seasons ago, getting handed his first Italy cap at age 27. But it's time to let go of Cinderella. Although he wasn't entirely at fault for Cesc Fabregas' equaliser, Giaccherini was the weak link throughout the match. Give Federeico Balzaretti the chance. Please.Giaccherini will be eaten alive by Darijo Srna.

And for goodness sake, the strike partnership doesn't always need to be Cassano - Balotelli or Di Natale - Giovinoco. Live a little. Let Cassano and Di Natale start.

Ok, ranting over, but expect a few choice Croatian cursings in the coverage.

Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini; Christian Maggio, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Emanuele Giaccherini; Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli

Croatia (4-4-2): Stipe Pletikosa; Ivan Strinic, Gordon Schildenfeld, Vedran Corluka, Darijo Srna; Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric, Ognjen Vukojevic, Ivan Rakitic; Mario Mandzukic, Nikica Jelavic.

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