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.