Italy vs Croatia – UEFA Euro 2012 Group C Match Preview
Thursdays match against Croatia is a must win for an Italian side looking to build off of a commendable performance against defending champions Spain. Despite the 1-1 draw, many positives could be drawn from the performance such as a man of the match effort from Daniele De Rossi and a goal off the bench from Udinese legend, Antonio Di Natale.
The match against Spain also saw De Rossi asked to play a center back type role that he performed very well in. Italy manager Cesare Prandelli will hope that De Rossi can replicate that performance and contain Nikica Jelavic who scored the game winning goal against Ireland.
For Croatia, they will be looking to achieve a victory, giving them six points and making their path to the next round much easier. If Italy fails to win the match, the recent disappointment in international competition will continue and they will struggle to make it out of the group stages. Despite scoring two goals in the match against Ireland, Mario Mandzukic has maintained a relatively low profile compared to his fellow striker Jelavic. The Italy back line will have a very difficult time trying to contain this dynamic duo while still maintaining enough attacking presence to win the match.
After a frustrating performance from Mario Balotelli, it is expected that he will be benched in favor of Antonio Di Natale. Besides blowing an easy goal scoring chance, the immaturity of Balotelli that Manchester City fans are used to seeing emerged and nearly caused his team to have to play a man down against Spain. Balotelli has the talent, but the lack of maturity as well as confidence likely means it will be the last time we see him starting for Italy in Euro 2012.
Prediction: Italy 2 – 1 Croatia
Between 60% of shots being on target against Spain, Pirlo’s passing ability, and the forward combination of Cassano and Di Natale Italy has all the tools in place to win. Croatia looked shaky at times against Ireland which plays to Italy’s advantage, but Croatia’s goal scoring ability is nothing to scoff at either. This match will be a battle and a very entertaining one to watch