Italy 1 Croatia 1: Mighty Mandzukic pounces to cancel out Pirlo's pearler
18:26 GMT, 14 June 2012
Mario Mandzukic scored his third goal in two Euro 2012 games to leave Croatia and Italy's quarter-final hopes on a knife-edge.
Croatia went into the Group C encounter knowing a win over Italy would guarantee them a last-eight place, but they were decidedly second best in the opening 45 minutes at Poznan's Municipal Stadium.
Italy deservedly led at the half-time interval courtesy of Andrea Pirlo's stunning free-kick, but were never the same attacking force in the second period, allowing Mandzukic to equalise in the 72nd minute.
With four points from two matches, Croatia now face a challenging final clash with reigning world and European champions Spain.
Level pegging: Mario Mandzukic scores the equaliser
Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini, Maggio, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta (Montolivo 62), Giaccherni, Balotelli (Di Natale 69), Cassano (Giovinco 83). Subs not used: Sirigu, Ogbonna Obienza, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Borini, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
Booked: Motta, Montolivio.
Scorer: Pirlo 39.
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic (Pranjic 68), Jelavic, Mandzukic (Kranjcar 90+3). Subs not used: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Badelj, Vrsaljko, Dujmovic, Kalinic, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic.
Referee: Howard Webb (England).
As for Italy, who have now drawn both
of their matches, they know they will have to beat the Republic of
Ireland on Monday to be in with a chance of a quarter-final spot.
Although Italy coach Cesare Prandelli
remains unbeaten in competitive internationals with eight wins and four
draws, he will likely feel this was a game that should have been won in
the first half.
Italy signalled their intent inside three minutes, via Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in particular.
Receiving Emanuele Giaccherini's
left-wing ball inside the area and with his back to goal, Balotelli made
one touch and a sharp turn before firing a 12-yard left-foot shot
It was the start of a predominantly
one-sided half, with Claudio Marchisio shaving the crossbar with a
rasping 20-yard drive just eight minutes later.
A further opportunity for Balotelli,
with a snap shot straight at goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, and an Antonio
Cassano flick through the six-yard box sandwiched Croatia's one
That came in the 20th minute when Darijo Srna played a piercing low ball from the right into the near post.
Big noise: Mario Mandzukic hit his thrid goal of Euro 2012 to draw Croatia level
All that was required was the merest
of touches from Nikica Jelavic that would potentially have been enough
to beat Gianluigi Buffon, but instead the veteran was allowed to
Italy, though, retained their
stranglehold on the game and should have taken the lead eight minutes
from the break, only for Marchisio to twice be denied by Pletikosa.
After a delightful touch to leave Srna
for dead inside the area following a through ball from Cassano,
Marchisio's initial left-foot shot was superbly saved by Pletikosa, who
then blocked the follow-up at point-blank range.
Dead ball expert: Andrea Pirlo curls in a beauty to give Italy the lead
No chance: Stipe Pletikosa dives in vain as Andrea Pirlo's free-kick rasps into the net
It's a celebration: Italy players run to congratulate Andrea Pirlo
But with the danger still present,
Ivan Ratikic fouled Balotelli on the edge of the area, allowing Pirlo to
whip a 21-yard right-foot free-kick over the wall and inside
Pletikosa's right-hand post.
It left Slaven Bilic's side going into
the break knowing they had to up the tempo and chase the game in the
second half, which they at least started with greater urgency.
But after Luka Modric first fired a
20-yard shot a yard over the bar the encounter turned scrappy, dominated
by niggly fouls and challenges until Balotelli came within inches with a
fierce drive on the hour.
No more: Croatia's Ognjen Vukojevic attempts to prevent Croatian fans from throwing flares into the pitch
Stamp it out: Ognjen Vukojevic and Ivan Perisic attempt to extinguish the flare
Then finally, in the 72nd minute,
Croatia made their presence felt in the right way as their two-goal hero
from the 3-1 win over the Republic of Ireland struck again.
Ivan Strinic's ball from deep on the
left wing was missed by Giorgio Chiellini, allowing Mandzukic to control
and beat the advancing Buffon in off the right-hand post from six
Croatia finished the game the stronger
as they went in search of the winner that would have sealed their
last-eight place, but it was not to be, leaving both sides facing a
dramatic final group game.
Loud and proud: Croatia fans show their support in Poznan