Tomorrow sees what could be the defining game for Croatia at the Euros, as they line up against footballing giants Italy. Once again the game will be played in Poznan, at the Stadion Miejski, and if Croatia are able to bag all three points they’ll confirm their place in the quarter finals. Slaven Bilic has to convey to his players that this is a must win game, if they draw or lose then they will have to face world champions Spain knowing that they need a result, a prospect no team would look forward to. Going on the last round of games from Group C do Croatia stand a chance against the world cup winners of 2006? Are the omens good or bad for Slaven Bilic’s side? And ultimately will they make it through?
Now if you’ve read previous posts on this blog you know I’m a big sceptic of Italy’s chances at the Euros, for me the state of the national game going through yet another match fixing scandal, the age of the squad and their poor performance at the last world cup all point to Italy not being able to amount to much in this tournament. Against Spain though they proved me wrong, the team seemed sharp and motivated and manager Cesare Prandelli really won the battle of the tactics as he lined up in a manner that matched the superiority of Spain’s midfield and ensured they couldn’t get the tie on the ball that Spain use to dominate teams. In the end Italy were slightly unlucky not to get the win against a strikerless Spain and the Azzurri were left rueing missed chances that probably should have earned them the three points.
Croatia against Ireland looked the far superior side, and they dominated possession and the play, ensuring that the Irish only had a couple of chances throughout the game, saying this Croatia did ride their luck slightly with their last two goals and they won’t be able to rely on such circumstances against a much more experienced Italy side. Croatia must try to play the same way as they did against Ireland, with Rakitic and Modric pushing forward often, causing the opposition central midfield partnership to play deep, and to encourage the full backs to get forward, as a Srna was at his best against Ireland when he was bombing forward. Mandzukic and Jelavic looked a troublesome pair and they should cause the Italian back four some problems, however Mandzukic can’t expect to win the aerial battle against the stalwart that is Chilleni as easily as he did against Dunne. The one match up that will be crucial will be Modric against De Rossi, the defensive midfielder played exceptionally against Spain and was able to contain a world beating midfield at times, if he is able to do this to Modric then Croatia’s creative spark might fizzle out. The line up of Italy’s midfield might also cause Croatia problems, as Pirlo rolled back the years against Spain and was able to play the role of not only the ball player but the attacking midfielder as well, if he is able to do this again Croatia’s Vukojevic he might struggle as he didn’t really have to face anyone coming at him against Ireland.
In terms of defensively for Croatia I do not believe that Prandelli will start Balotelli again, especially not after the shocker he had in front of goal against Spain, this means they are likely to line up with Cassano and goal scorer Di Natale. Croatia will struggle to contain these two in my opinion, and just like against Ireland I can see Corluka and Schindenfeld giving away a lot of free kicks, which might come back to punish Croatia, especially with the strong aerial presence the Italians possess and the poor tactical defending that led to Ireland’s goal against Croatia in the opening game. On the front foot for Italy Croatia’s main task must be to match Pirlo, he pulled the strings against Spain, and it was his perfectly weighted ball that set Di Natale through on goal for the opener, and if Croatia are able to deal with him the supply to the front men will be seriously inhibited.
Despite Italy’s good performance against Spain I can still see Croatia getting a victory, both teams will be really fired up for the game, with Italy wanting to record their first victory of the tournament and Croatia wanting to secure their place in the quarter final. Croatia will go into the game in high confidence, knowing that they have only been beaten once by the Italians in their last six meetings, and this omen might carry them through the game. For me this is the crunch game of Group C, both teams will be raring to go, knowing that anything less than a win and their future in the tournament will be in jeopardy. The Croatian midfield will need to be at it’s absolute best to match the quality that Italy possess in that area, and they might have to move the ball around on the ground like we’re used to seeing as the long ball up to Mandzukic that worked so well against the Irish might be nipped in the bud by the aerial dominance of Italy. I believe it will be a close game, and I can see Croatia taking the lead, however I think that discipline will come round and punish the Croatians, and maybe a set piece or a penalty will even up the score in Poznan. If Jelavic is on point though and Croatia can play it to his feet he might swing the game back in Croatia’s favour and I can see him earning a hard fought, and very tight, victory for his country against the Azzurri.