Italy draw 1-1 with Croatia, Spain beat Ireland 4-0 in Euro matchups
By Andrew Dampf ,AP
June 16, 2012, 12:04 am TWN
POZNAN, Poland -- After all the talk about an attacking approach to soccer, Italy fell back to its old defensive tactics Thursday — and the price was a costly 1-1 draw with Croatia.
The Italians let a first-half lead slip away and now may need help to advance to the European Championship quarterfinals.
Andrea Pirlo gave the Italians the lead with a curving free kick in the 39th minute, but Mario Mandzukic was left unmarked to equalize for Croatia in the 72nd.
At the start of the second half, Italy rarely threatened, instead choosing to absorb Croatia's attacks. The tactic backfired when Ivan Strinic launched a long pass from the left flank to Mandzukic, who had time to control at the edge of the box and shoot in off the post.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was left wondering if there was a physical problem with his squad.
"After an hour our physical level drops," Prandelli said. "We've got to figure out how to manage our energy in the next match. We're lacking freshness in that phase of the match.
"We (drew) with a very physical and athletic squad, but we played much better (than Croatia)."
Italy had numerous other first-half chances from Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano, but the Azzurri lacked finishing quality. Balotelli, in particular, appeared hesitant and missed one opportunity after another. And this time, second-half replacement Antonio Di Natale never really had a chance to score.
"If you can't finish it off, of course you're going to have regrets," said Prandelli, who will likely be questioned for sticking with Balotelli up front.
Having opened with a 3-1 win over Ireland, Croatia has four points and is tied for the Group C lead with Spain. Italy, which opened by drawing 1-1 with Spain, has two points and Ireland has already been eliminated with none.
Spain beat Ireland 4-0 in the other group match Thursday.