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.

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