Croatia could have been the first team to book a spot in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, but at the end of the day, they will have to be happy with a 1-1 draw against Italy. The Azzurri dominated the first half and Croatia were lucky not to be down by multiple goals at halftime.
Referee Howard Webb missed an obvious penalty call as Nikica Jelavić was pulled down in the box. Italy controlled the midfield. Croatia couldn't string more than three passes together.
Pletikosa made two amazing saves as the Croatian defence couldn't keep up with Italian strikers. And then Andrea Pirlo curled in a beautiful free kick over the wall in the 39' to give Italy a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
That was the first half breakdown.
There was a bit more life out of the Croatian side in the second half, stringing together a few more passes, but still not having the core midfield chemistry they had against Ireland. Many long balls were played down field with little impact against the Italian defence.
But in the 72nd minute, it all finally came together for Croatia as defender Ivan Strinić swung in a cross from the sideline that found striker Mario Mandžukić at the far post. Italian defender Georgio Chiellini misjudged the ball as it travelled over his head, and Mandza coolly trapped it and struck home off the inside of the post. Both sides would have a few more half chances but the game would end 1-1 with no one yet booking a quarterfinal berth from Group C.
English referee Howard Webb called a bad game, not allowing a clear penalty on Jelavić in the first half and not allowing proper flow throughout the match, calling a foul on nearly every challenge. Both teams flopped throughout the game but captain Darijo Srna was fortunately not booked for an elbow to the head of Thiago Motta in the second half.
Croatia will be happy with the point heading into their Group C finale vs. Spain on Monday. The Italians should be disappointed, as they were the better team on the day.
-Written by Ante Kvartuč, CroatianSports.com