Italy - Croatia Preview: Azzurri aim to leapfrog Group C leaders in Poznan
Slaven Bilic's side could potentially secure their place in the quarters as they face the 1968 winners, who are coming off a morale-boosting draw versus the reigning champions
By Adam Scime
Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini
Maggio, T. Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, G'rini
Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic
Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic
Italy boss Cesare Prandelli is likely to stick with the 3-5-2 formation which earned his side a 1-1 draw against Spain on Sunday.
The former Fiorentina coach has two major decisions to make, the first will come at the back as he must choose whether to retain Daniele De Rossi, who was impressive at the heart of the defence in their last match, or opt for Angelo Ogbonna and move the Roma star back into midfield.
His other dilemma is up front as he must pick between fielding Mario Balotelli or Antonio Di Natale. Balotelli looked frustrated and wasted a golden opportunity to open the scoring versus Spain, while the veteran Udinese star came off the bench to replace the youngster and netted the opening goal. However, Di Natale may not have a full 90 minutes in his legs at 34 years of age.
Croatia, meanwhile, are sitting in pole position in the group after their 3-1 triumph over Republic of Ireland and despite injuries to key players such as defender Dejan Lovren and striker Ivica Olic before the tournament, they did not miss a beat in their opener with the midfielders and strikers looking particularly bright.
Luka Modric will be given the keys to direct play once again, but coach Slaven Bilic could opt to be more cautious by dropping one of his goalscorers, Nikica Jelavic or Mario Mandzukic, from the clash with the Boys in Green to employ an extra midfielder for a stable and conservative approach against the Azzurri.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Italy ended a three-match losing streak with their tie versus Spain, having previously been defeated in three consecutive friendlies against USA, Uruguay, and Russia.
- Balotelli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Christian Maggio will miss Italy's final group stage match against Ireland if they are booked. Kranjcar and Modric would be absent from Croatia's clash with Spain if they picked up a yellow card.
- Juventus midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini made his debut when he started their last match in Gdansk.
- Di Natale (pictured right) became the fourth-oldest scorer in the history of the tournament with his strike against Spain, but was later knocked down to fifth on the list after Andriy Shevchenko found the net against Sweden one day later.
- Croatia have not lost to Italy since attaining independence in 1991, earning three wins and two draws.
- Stipe Pletikosa and Gianluigi Buffon were also the starting goalkeepers when Croatia defeated the Azzurri 2-1 in the 2002 World Cup group stage.
- Mandzukic, who netted a double against Ireland, is only the second Croatian player to score twice in the same match at a European Championship, the other being Davor Suker, who achieved the feat in 1996.
- Both teams were knocked out of Euro 2008 at the quarter-final stage on penalties, Croatia beaten by Turkey and Italy bowing out against Spain.
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Top 3 Predictions
Italy 2-0 Croatia
- 22.16 %
Italy 2-1 Croatia
- 17.55 %
Italy 1-2 Croatia
- 10.16 %
|Euro 2012 (EC)||Jun 14, 2012||Italy 1 - Croatia 1|
|International Friendlies (FR)||Aug 18, 2006||Italy 0 - Croatia 2|
|Nov 18, 2013||Italy 2 - Nigeria 2||FR|
|Nov 15, 2013||Italy 1 - Germany 1||FR|
|Oct 15, 2013||Italy 2 - Armenia 2||WCQ|
|Oct 11, 2013||Denmark 2 - Italy 2||WCQ|
|Sep 10, 2013||Italy 2 - Czech Rep. 1||WCQ|
|16||Daniele De Rossi||Midfielder|
|-||Morgan De Sanctis|
|-||Antonio Di Natale|
|Daniele De Rossi|
The 28-year-old was impeccable in denying the striker-less Spain opportunities in Gdansk, but once a true forward was on the pitch in Fernando Torres, the midfielder-turned-defender had a couple of lapses. He will need to be able to deal with the threat of a target man more completely on Thursday, whether it be Jelavic, Mandzukic or both.
The Tottenham playmaker made Giovanni Trapattoni's side pay for giving him too much space on numerous occasions just a few days ago, but his ability to effect the game under more pressure from a five-man opposition midfield will be paramount to his country's success as they look to make it six point from six in Group C.
Croatia were given too much room in midfield against Ireland, and thus found it very easy to dictate play and come away with a straight-forward victory. The same thing is unlikely to occur against an improving Italy side despite their positive record against the Azzurri in the past and Prandelli's side should be able to come away with three points if they take their chances in Poznan.