Croatia and Italy played out a 1-1 draw in Euro 2016 qualifying behind closed doors in Split on Friday. Croatia took the lead early through Mario Mandžukić, only for Antonio Candreva to equalise later in the first half. The second period was a pretty boring affair, with goalscoring chances few and far between.
Italy could hardly have made a worse start to the match than when Astori made a clumsy intervention on Darijo Srna in the penalty area in the opening exchanges. Fortunately for the Azzurri, Mario Mandžukić's subsequently spot-kick was poor, and comfortably saved by a diving Gianluigi Buffon.
However, their luck didn't last long, and ran out in the 11th minute in a remarkable sequence of play. Italy attacker Stephan El Shaarawy scored a goal (that replays showed to be legal) and ran away to celebrate, only for it to be ruled out as offside. Croatia resumed play quickly, and capitalized on Italy's defensive disorganisation to score through Mandžukić on the counter-attack seconds later.
Italy were initially slow to react to the early blow, though they began to improve as the half wore on. A couple of Andrea Pirlo free-kicks had Croatia's defence scrambling, before El Shaarawy chipped a shot straight into the arms of goalkeeper Danijel Subašić from point-blank range.
Eventually they did get a break, when Mandžukić handled in the area 10 minutes before halftime, prompting the referee to award the second penalty of the match. Antonio Candreva had the nerve to tease a panenka over the stricken Subašić to level the match.
It stayed that way through to the halftime whistle and into the second half with very little of note occurring. The tempo of the match had dropped completely, with Italy seeing more of the possession but struggling to do anything with it. Andrea Pirlo took an optimistic shot on goal with just over 20 minutes left, though it narrowly cleared the crossbar. His teammate Marco Parolo had an even better opportunity a few minutes later, though fired right at the keeper.
Croatia captain Srna was sent off for a second bookable offence in the last minute of normal time, but it was too late for Italy to capitalize.
Croatia: Subašić; Pranjić (Vrsaljko 72'), Srna, Schildenfeld, Vida, Srna; Brozović, Rakitić; Olić (Rebić 46'), Kovačić (Leovac 90+2'), Perišić; Mandžukić.
Goals: Mandžukić (11').
Red cards: Srna (90').
Italy: Buffon (Sirigu 46'); Darmian, Astori, Bonucci, De Silvestri (De Sciglio 27'); Marchisio, Pirlo, Parolo; El Shaarawy (Ranocchia 80'), Pellè, Candreva.
Goals: Candreva (pen. 36').
1. Neither side seemed too bothered
After a fairly energetic first half, the second period of this match was notable only because barely anything at all happened. Italy generally had a stranglehold on the game, but their play was too slow to cause Croatia too many concerns in front of goal. Having to play at this stage in the season surely can't help, but it was another turgid performance from the Azzurri, who have now drawn three games in a row. Croatia, meanwhile, will probably be rather happier -- they stay top of the group with this draw, even if they didn't perform too well in the second half.
2. Italy's first half defending left a lot to be desired
Despite the hackneyed clichés of the strength of the Italian defence, the Azzurri back line in this match left a lot to be desired. Croatia's opener was a freak occurrence, but it was far from the only occasion in the match in which Italy looked vulnerable. The absence of Giorgio Chiellini told with Davide Astori giving away a silly penalty, but they looked especially weak down the flanks; even Matteo Darmian, who has looked one of Italy's best players in recent times, struggled against Croatia's right winger Ivan Perišić. Antonio Conte could well be tempted to revert to his back three on their first-half showing.
3. Ivan Rakitić was good again
We've known for a while that Ivan Rakitić is good, but it's only this season that we've got to see how good. The answer is very. Hot on the heels of scoring a crucial goal in Barcelona's Champions League final victory over Juventus, the midfield maestro was back to haunt Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci in a typically dynamic performance in the center of midfield. Pretty much all of Croatia's play went through him, and it was telling that he provided the assist for their opener. He looked a little suspect defensively in an unusually deep role, but going forward he was invariably a threat.