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Juan Jiménez | 14/06/2012
Prisoners of their own history of 1-0 wins, Italy found themselves behind bars with their backs to the wall in Poznan. After attempting to maintain their one-goal lead, courtesy of a world-class strike by Pirlo, they let Croatia back into the game as they their excellent first half was cancelled out , leaving Group C wide open. The draw did Prandelli no favours after he promised to use an attacking approach when he was named national coach and arrived at Coverciano.
For one game and a half it looked like he was keeping his promise, but Italy can't resist being the Italy we know all too well. Croatia played with pride, turning these sporting events into a frenzy of patriotism, and deserved the result for their passion and the faith they showed in themselves; they could even walk away feeling aggrieved after the final stages of the encounter that saw Italy gasping for breath near corner flag after they came alive following Mandzukic's strike. A goal would have granted them mathematical qualification, but now they will have to wait for Spain as they look to pull off another heroic act that will set the streets of Zagreb alight. In Italy's case, two matches, two draws, like in so many big tournaments. However, they will be confident they can clinch qualification and progress to the final stages ahead of their clash with Fratello Trapattoni's weak Ireland team in the third game.
In the first half Italy found Pletikosa almost at will, with a lively Balotelli looking dangerous with three shots at goal. Marchisio also went close with a couple of efforts, as did Cassano as both threatened to extend their 1-0 lead. The Azzuri overran Croatia, who attempted to keep their shape and identity but remained second best as both teams exchanged blows. Apart from a couple of attempts on the wings (the crosses by Strinic and Srna were their best chances the first half), Croatia lacked the magic of the normally excellent Modric, who despite his big reputation and work-rate seems to go missing on the big occasions. The balance was tipped in Italy's favour by the silky right boot of Pirlo, who gracefully curled the ball over the wall. A textbook goal that looked to have sealed Italy's 1-0 win.
Croatia, who embraced their Independence at the beginning of the Nineties while the golden generation of players was coming to fruition (Suker, Boban, Jarni, Vlaovic), allowing them to proudly wave their flag at the World Cup in France, thought that in Modric they had found their leader, the player to return them to the world stage. Dubbed the Croatian Cruyff, the weight seems to hang heavy on his shoulders. In saying that, he started the second half in lively fashion as he tested Buffon, the eternal captain that closed his eyes during the anthem, on a couple of occasions. Italy, who had played a slick and controlled first half and were rarely under pressure, looked to be deceived by their subconscious, their unerring tendency to protect their slim 1-0 lead, as their grip on the match began to slip. The visceral Bilic urged his team forward and was finally rewarded as he put Rakitic in central midfield to help Modric, sent on Pranjic and two predators up front. They got their just rewards in the end as Mandzukic received a cross and smashed the ball past Buffon in a similar fashion to Mario Gómez. Croatia's ambition was rewarded as they unexpectedly punished Prandelli's men. Despite Prandelli's changes, as he tried give Montolivo some breathing space, catch Croatia off guard with Giovinco and create a goal scoring chance for Di Natale, Italy faded alarmingly in the closing stages and in the end were waiting hanging on for the final whistle. The 1-1 draw seemed almost as glorious as the 1-0... The Azzuri remain admirably incorrigible.