With both teams coming off impressive opening match showings, Italy and Croatia will clash Thursday in Poland. Group C will be incredibly tight for advancement, and points in this fixture will be crucial for advancement.
For the Italians, they picked up a surprising draw in their first game against a powerhouse Spanish side. They defended well, even scoring the opening goal, and created many chances on the counter-attack. Despite their unique 3-5-2 formation, the Azzurri were solid at the back, with Daniele De Rossi turning in a remarkable performance in the centre of defence.
Croatia too looked like a force in their opening fixture against the Irish. However whether that is due to a weak opponent or their own doing will likely be settled against a strong Italian side. The Croatians were dangerous on the attack, and the duo of Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic were lethal up front and will be counted on to provide offense in a crucial match against the Italians.
Italy vs Croatia Betting Odds:
Italy (+125) / Draw (+230) / Croatia (+240)
Over 2 (-115) / Under 2 (-105)
Match Analysis & Pick:
Both these squads have legitimate desires to advance in the group stage, and this game will be absolutely crucial to their hopes. Though the Italians entered Euro 2012 amid waves of controversy, the team’s first match has tentatively calmed the concerns of their loyal fans. Croatia certainly isn’t Spain, but the trio of Jelavic, Mandzukic, and Tottenham’s Luka Modric are dangerous offensive weapons that all possess the potential to send the Italians home.
Meanwhile, the Italians also have some big question marks up front. The enigmatic Mario Balotelli turned in a dismal performance against Spain, squandering many chances, and eventually was subbed off for Antonio di Natale. The substitute promptly came on and netted the game’s opening tally, fuelling speculation that he deserves to stay in the starting eleven. Balotelli is a loud character, and is never shy about displaying his emotions. It will be interesting to see if him sitting out effects the team dynamic at all moving forward. One thing remains clear however, the Italians were more dangerous with di Natale opposed to Balotelli, so don’t be surprised to see the Udinese striker get the call from Cesare Prandelli.
As far as formation news goes for the Croats, coach Slaven Bilic is expected to retain the same starting eleven, and has heralded this game as “the decisive match of the group.” Don’t be surprised to see the Croatians play this game a little more conservative than their opener against Ireland. Against the Irish, Bilic had his side pressing forward often, knowing that securing a victory and goals would be vital for advancement. However, with Spain on the horizon after the Azzurri, Bilic may be inclined to secure a draw, adopting a style that plays not to lose.
The key match-up in this game will be Italy’s Andre Pirlo against Croatia’s Luka Modric. Both are anchors of the midfield, and whoever succeeds in this battle will have their side well-suited for a desirable result. Look for the Italians to continue from where they left off against Spain, defending with confidence, and using the Antonio’s, Cassano and di Natale, to wreak havoc on a susceptible Croatian back-line. Though these teams have proclaimed they’d love to get the win, secretly they would both settle for a draw, with the opportunity to control their own destiny in their final match of the group stage.
Expect a match filled competitiveness and deadlock in the midfield. Though both teams do possess attacking quality, Croatia and Italy have been known to shut it down when it’s necessary, and look for this match to play out as such. Defense will be a key theme here, with both sides playing conservatively so as not to lose. Though Italy are the more likely team to pluck out a winner with higher quality and options up front, don’t be surprised if the value lies on a low-scoring draw.