Billed as the decisive match in Group C, there comes no truer example of a game of two halves. Dominant, assured and energetic could best describe the first forty-five minutes from an Italian perspective, yet they were replaced by nervy, rattled and lethargic at the end of the second. Andrea Pirlo’s delightfully curled free-kick had given Italy the lead, but Croatia were a different prospect after the break. The Azzurri now have a meeting with a familiar face on Monday night, knowing that they must defeat Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland to hold any hope of progressing to the quarter-finals.
There was much optimism following the draw with Spain on Sunday, and it appeared Cesare Prandelli’s men were in confident mood as they carved out numerous chances in the first half. The movement from the front two and midfield was equally as impressive as the passing on display, with Italy playing some eye-catching football. Yet for all their pressure and possession, they were unable to convert it into goals, a fear highlighted in a previous blog after Sunday’s game. While Mario Balotelli again looked full of running, the Manchester City striker looked anxious when presented with goal-scoring opportunities, while Claudio Marchisio was denied by a brilliant double-save from Stipe Pletikosa. Pirlo’s post-match reaction perhaps best sums up the feelings of the Azzurri camp:
“We could’ve finished off the game with another goal in the first half, then went too deep after the break and it’s a shame Croatia got that equaliser.
“Today the team did well and we’ll see what to do on Monday. Goals are everything in football and hopefully we can start getting a few more of these chances in the net.”
It is perhaps unfair to place the blame solely at the feet of any particular individual. Collectively, Italy dropped deeper and deeper as the game progressed, forgetting their new style of play in a bid to conserve their lead. However, for consecutive games a momentarily lapse in concentration and error of judgment has cost them dearly. First Emanuele Giaccherini losing the run of Cesc Fabregas, secondly with Giorgio Chiellini misjudging the flight of the ball in the lead up to Croatia’s equaliser. While the opposition have shown a clinical edge in front of goal, it is a glaring omission from Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign thus far.
Much has been made of a potential ‘deal’ being made between Spain and Croatia on Monday, with the conspiracy theorists and cynics making light of the possibility a 2-2 draw would see both countries progress at Italy’s expense. The Azzurri have been there before, suffering an early exit at Euro 2004 after Sweden and Denmark played out the very same score-line. It is difficult to foresee either side even contemplate that particular notion from a professional stance, even more so with the title of group winners at stake, a sentiment shared by Thiago Motta:
“I’m sure Spain will try to beat Croatia whatever happens. We are professionals and I doubt there would be an agreement at the Euros.”
Minds must be focused on the task in hand, a win against Ireland is the objective. Prandelli will be aware of the improvements that must be made, while the players must be more clinical. Whether he will make any changes remains to be seen, the 3-5-2 system has worked relatively well to this point, perhaps a change of personnel up front is an option he may exercise. FIGC vice-president Demetrio Albertini commented after the game that ‘there is only disappointment that we didn’t get the win, but there is no despair’. He along with all concerned in the Italy camp will hope that that disappointment doesn’t turn into despair come Monday night, for Italy would have only themselves to blame.
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