Man of the match: Like the rest of his team, Andrea Pirlo took a step back in the second. In the first half, Italy’s regista was imperious, an effort highlighted by covering a free kick from 20 yards out to give Italy the lead. Getting a ball over the wall and down at the near post, Pirlo gave Croatia’s `keeper no chance to prevent the opener. Beyond the goal, his link with Antonio Cassano was the backbone of all of Italy’s first half threats, and when it disappeared in the second half, Italy became feckless.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Pirlo’s direct kick goal was the first in the European Championships since 2004.
- The match was a tale of two nearly symmetrical halves. Italy controlled the first, getting a goal in the middle of the period. Croatia was equally decisive in the second, with Mario Mandzukic’s third goal of the tournament putting them up with plenty of time to find an equalizer.
- Before the goal, Mandzukic was one of the least influential players on the pitch. For somebody who was going to be vital providing a resource for Luka Modric in between midfield and defense, he was practically invisible. Between a 17th minute attempted chip for Nikica Jelavic and his conversion of an Ivan Strinic cross, he might as well have been on the sideline.
- In the first half, most of Mandzukic’s teammates were equally uninspiring. The half was dominated by the Italians, who looked like contenders to win the tournament at intermission.
- The link between Pirlo and Antonio Cassano is enthralling: Playmakers at each level of midfield, creating for Mario Balotelli or Toto Di Natale. The best chance the duo created was actually for Claudio Marchisio, who gave the Croatians first half fits jumping into attack. In the 37th minute, he exploited some poor positioning from Vedran Corluka, taking a great pass from Cassano that targeted the left channel (after Pirlo had played it up an level for him).
- A nice touch put Marchisio in on Stipe Pletikosa, who made a great save. The rebound came to Marchisio, but Pletikosa laid out for another block. The ensuing clearance drew a foul on Ivan Rakitic that led to Pirlo’s goal, but the two shots where Italy’s best chances of the match.
- Two days ago, we discussed why Greece’s Jose Holebas may be the tournament’s worst player, but he had the excuse of having no cover in front of him on the left flank. Vedran Corluka doesn’t have that excuse. He had another terrible game and has been the tournament’s worst central defender.
- Croatia got strong performances from their wide midfielders on Monday, performances that weren’t replicated today. Rakitic was decent, providing good service on crosses and helping a defense (including in the 92nd minute when he was back at the edge of his own area to create a turnover). Ivan Perisic, however, failed to have an impact and was taken off. When Danijel Prajic came on and gave the Croatians a boost of energy, his overlapping run crucial to giving Strinic room to provide for Mandzukic’s goal.
- An adjustment to Luka Modric’s positioning also helped Croatia in the second half. In the first, Modric was dropping deep to pick up the ball and carry it into attack – pretty standard stuff, for him. In the second, Slaven Bilic left him high, playing him as more of a number ten, and had the ball played to him. Within the first moments after break, his impact was being felt, beating Daniele de Rossi twice to get off shots.
- Mario Balotelli did a lot of good things today. He was clearly too quick for Croatia, and when he dropped back, he provided an occasionally needed outlet to get Italy into attack. However, he still failed to replicate the incisiveness in the penalty area that we often see at club level. At one point in the first half, he again looked tentative when facing up to goal, seemingly in his own head trying not to let people down.
- Italy should see this result as disappointing after how they played in the first half. Given the attitude we saw over the last 45 minutes, they probably won’t. On only two points, they will lose control of their own destiny if Spain beats Ireland, yet they didn’t seem too interested in pursuing a winner.
- Croatia had a bad first half and recovered. They remain undefeated against Italy and in the group. Unfortunately, the match was there for the taking, and if they can’t get a result against Spain, they’ll likely be made to rue not putting Italy away.
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