Mario Mandzukic of Croatia makes sure Italy must do it hard way

Italy 1 Croatia 1

The Municipal Stadium

Slaven Bilic's first game in Poznan saw him kissing a fan who had run on to the pitch, a gesture that carried an air of Brian Clough about it. Despite the fact that his second visit here, for a draw against Italy, actually gave a better result than that 3-1 win over Ireland, Croatia's manager ended the night with a snarl, directed at Howard Webb.

Bilic thought the Yorkshire referee should have awarded Croatia a first-half penalty when Nikica Jelavic fell as he tangled with Giorgio Chiellini. The whole Croatian bench ran to the touchline as Webb approached the scene to award a free-kick to Italy.

"I am not objective," said Bilic with considerable understatement. "But I am sure it was a pure penalty and the free-kick from which the Italians scored was not a foul. I didn't like Webb's performance. To me, he was a referee who was not good for Croatia."

Bilic had predicted that, should his side break out of their group, they might run wild in the tournament and they are now very close. In the immediate aftermath of a second match in which the Italians have lost a lead, it occurred to Gianluigi Buffon that, should Croatia and Spain play out a 2-2 draw on Monday night in Gdansk, they would both go through.

In Euro 2004, a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden had seen the Scandinavian nations qualify at Italy's expense. "If it happens again," the goalkeeper said, "the whole world will laugh." Buffon was assuming that Spain would beat Ireland in the night's later game, of course, but that hardly required a leap of the imagination.

Click here to view player ratings for Italy v Croatia

To stand any chance, Italy will have to beat Ireland, something they achieved in the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup but which was beyond them in America four years later. If the result is New Jersey rather than Rome, then they will have failed to get out the group stage for the second successive tournament. It is worth pointing out that it is seven months since the Italians beat anybody.

As they had against Spain in their opener in Gdansk, Italy scored first only to be pegged back and finish the weaker side. "What you have to say is that when you are leading, playing well and have territorial supremacy, you must kill the game off because one cross, one deflection, can change everything," said the Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. "If you can't kill a team off, then you must have regrets."

Once more putting his faith in Mario Balotelli will probably be one of his regrets. Prandelli had told his most talented forward to do his talking on the pitch. If so, this was a barely audible mumble, featuring one fabulously vicious shot that sped over the bar.

Immediately afterwards, the Manchester City striker was replaced by Antonio di Natale, which on Sunday had sparked the breakthrough against Spain. Here, the substitution also triggered a goal, against rather than for the Italians, as a cross caught Chiellini out of position and Mario Mandzukic, on the six-yard line, steadied himself and drove into the roof of Buffon's net.

Mandzukic, who learned his football under Miroslav Blazevic, who managed Croatia to third place in the 1998 World Cup, had wrecked Ireland in the opening game. Now, as the flares spilled on to the pitch, he had badly damaged Italian hopes of progress. He waved his heavily tattooed arms to encourage the crowd, who, frankly, required little motivation.

In more than the scoreline this was a repeat of Italy's opening game. As they had done against Spain, Prandelli's team were good enough to exert a real measure of control early on, chiefly through Andrea Pirlo's slight frame.

Like Paul Scholes and Xavi Hernandez, the 33-year-old has scaled peaks late on in his career and this was another jewel in what has proved a glittering season. His artist's touch was evident not just for the free-kick that produced Italy's goal but for a corner Antonio Cassano headed just over.

As the best player for Rostov, one of the Russian League's poorest teams, Croatia's goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa is used to busy evenings. He had just made a superb double save from Claudio Marchisio – who had left Bilic's makeshift right-back Darijo Srna on his backside before seeing both his shots clatter into the keeper's body – when he was finally beaten.

Pirlo's free-kick curled and dipped over the four-man wall and beat Pletikosa at a near post that the wall should have protected. Italy had a one-goal lead to protect, something that once upon a time would have come as standard. That, however, is a national stereotype that appears to be lost.

 

Man of the match Marchisio.

Match rating 7/10.

Referee H Webb (Eng).

Attendance 37,096.

Click here to view player ratings for Italy v Croatia

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week