Trouble at the back, wasteful up front - Italy leave themselves in danger of another swift exit

After drawing their second successive game at Euro 2012, the Azzurri must now defeat Ireland in their final fixture to keep their qualification hopes alive
 Mark Doyle
 Italy Expert Follow on


Before Italy's Euro 2012 campaign began, there were obvious parallels with the 2006 World Cup triumph in Germany, given the Azzurri's preparations had been overshadowed by a match-fixing scandal. However, in light of Thursday's 1-1 draw with Croatia, it now seems more comparable to their disastrous showing in South Africa two years ago.

For the second successive major international tournament, Italy have been held to 1-1 draws in their opening two fixtures. The hope now is that history does not repeat itself, with the Nazionale having been eliminated at the group stages in 2010 after a shock 3-2 defeat by Slovakia in Johannesburg.

MATCH FACTS | Italy 1-1 Croatia

 On Target
 Red cards
Slaven Bilic had a plan B and that is what earned the Croats a valuable point. A man who saw his tactical abilities questioned in the last two years easily won the battle with Cesare Prandelli.

"I'm more delighted about this match than the one with the Irish. The Italians’ style suits us more, we can play football," said Bilic in his interview a month before the tournament. He was obviously prepared for everything.

The situation for the Croats in the first half was not good - they looked lost at the back and in attack the fluency and pace we had witnessed in the first match disappeared. Stipe Pletikosa saved them in that first half, giving Bilic the opportunity to change things.

Croatia opened the second half with 4-2-3-1, playing Mandzukic on the right and Modric in the middle. As Bilic said after the match, the idea was to stretch the Italian defence, but also to prevent the opposition midfield from having control over the ball, like they did in the first half.

Modric was more offensive, which occupied and pinned back Pirlo, stopping the Italians in their tracks.

- Sasa Ibrulj | Croatia Expert
However, an early exit is now within the realms of possibility again. Admittedly, the fact that Spain and Croatia must now go head to head should mean that any kind of win over the Irish will see Italy through to the last eight. Still, who would risk putting any money on Cesare Prandelli's men to progress now that they have exhibited a worrying and most un-Italian inability to hold onto a lead?

Perhaps we should not have been surprised - this marks the sixth successive major finals where Italy have failed to win their second group match.

The Azzurri frustrated Spain for long periods in their tournament opener but they were, after all, playing against a side without a recognised striker, and it is worth remembering that they looked very vulnerable once Fernando Torres was on the field. The concession of an equaliser less than five minutes after taking the lead was a concern at the time and it has now taken on an added significance given the way in which Croatia drew level in Poznan.

Croatia had huffed and puffed at the start of the second half, following the intelligent deployment of Luka Modric just behind Nikica Jelavic, but there was evidence that they were starting to run out of ideas. Certainly, their aerial bombardment from out wide was reaping very little reward.

However, Giorgio Chiellini then completely went to sleep, getting caught under a cross from the left wing, and was unsurprisingly punished for his slackness by Mario Mandzukic, who, let us not forget, had already proven his prowess when it comes to converting quality crosses during the win over Ireland. Chiellini's sloppiness was therefore unforgivable, and it appeared to confirm a lack of focus at the back.

There is also a distinct absence of killer instinct up front. Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli created several openings for themselves with their clever movement but their shooting was horribly erratic. Once again, had it not been for Andrea Pirlo, Italy would never have scored.

Having teed up Antonio Di Natale for the opener against Spain, the Juventus playmaker broke the deadlock against Croatia with a predictably precise free-kick. One dreads to think where the Azzurri would be without Pirlo. Even with him, they are teetering on the brink of elimination.

Prandelli said after the Spain game he only had one doubt over his starting line-up. He must now have several because with Balotelli and Thiago Motta again failing to shine, Chiellini looking out of sorts and Emanuel Giaccherini somewhat vulnerable on the left-hand side, the Azzurri coach has plenty to consider ahead of his showdown with Giovanni Trapattoni and his Ireland side in Poznan. Indeed, with a new coach, a new approach and some fresh faces, this summer was supposed to be different to 2010. Instead, it is all beginning to look worryingly familiar.

Follow Mark Doyle on