Comeback Croatia earn point
Mandzukic equalises Pirlo opener to boost qualification hopes
Last Updated: 14/06/12 11:45pm
Mario Mandzukic notched a second-half equaliser as Croatia left Italy worrying over a place in the Euro 2012 knockout stages.
Cesare Prandelli's side started brightly in Poznan, with Mario Balotelli shooting just wide in the opening three minutes, while Claudio Marchisio blasted just over after Balotelli's effort was blocked.
At the other end, Nikica Jelavic had a penalty appeal turned down by referee Howard Webb after going down in the box while tussling for the ball with Giorgio Chiellini.
Balotelli then won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Andrea Pirlo hit an exquisite free-kick to net the 39th minute opener.
Croatia improved after the break, with Luka Modric having two early shots, as well as a succession of corners.
Slaven Bilic's side then drew level when Mandzukic slotted in off the post from close range with 18 minutes remaining to put them within touching distance of the quarter-finals.
As for Italy, who have now drawn both of their matches, they know they will surely have to beat Republic of Ireland on Monday to be in with a chance of a last-eight spot.
Although Italy coach 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 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 narrowly wide.
It was the start of a predominantly one-sided half, with 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 two significant chances.
Firstly Jelavic had a penalty appeal turned down in the 19th minute after tussling for the ball in the box, then Darijo Srna played a piercing low ball from the right into the near post a minute later.
All that was required was the merest of touches from Jelavic that would potentially have been enough to beat Gianluigi Buffon, but instead the veteran was allowed to collect.
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.
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 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 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.
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 Ireland struck again.
Ivan Strinic's ball from deep on the left wing was missed by Chiellini, allowing Mandzukic to control and beat the advancing Buffon in off the right-hand post from six yards.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.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||5|
|7||Shots off Target||3|
|57.3||1st Half Poss.||42.7|
|51.3||2nd Half Poss.||48.7|
European Championships Group A
European Championships Group B
European Championships Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||3||0|
European Championships Group D
Italy v Croatia
Cesare Prandelli insists Italy have not been disturbed by talk of a possible 'biscotto' between Spain and Croatia in their final game.
Gianluigi Buffon wants his Italian side to be more 'cynical' in their bid to progress to the knockout stages of Euro 2012.
Daniele De Rossi finds himself out of his comfort zone in Italy's defence against Croatia.