Italy vs. Croatia. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli called it “the decisive match” in Group C. He’ll hope to alter a recent Italian trend. Italy has failed to win its last five second matches in group stages at major tournaments. Their last win was 2-0 over Belgium at Euro 2000.
Stereotyping “catenaccio” is easy, though in fact Italy proved quite proactive against Spain. They outwitted the Spanish tactically with a 3-5-2 formation that stretched them and exposed width issues. They exploited 1 on 1 matchups down the wings and up front. Holding just 35 percent of possession, they had the same number of shots on target. On a more fortunate day the Italians would have won. They will use the same formation again today, perhaps answering whether Prandelli had a plan to play Spain or has a plan to go far in this tournament.
Mario Balotelli will start for Italy again, over Antonio Di Natale. It’s the right move. First, Antonio Di Natale is 34 and undergoes a special rehab regimen on his chronically injured knee between matches just to reach the field. He’s better served coming on for a half hour than going the full 90. Second, Italy needs to get something from Balotelli to win the tournament. He’s certainly the most physically impressive and arguable their most gifted and multifaceted player. He’s unlikely to carry form concerns from match to match, provided he’s on the field.
Croatia looked wonderful against Ireland. They stretched the famed Irish defense. Their finishing was on point. One wonders, though, how much shocking mistakes led to Ireland’s own demise. There were boneheaded and blatant defensive errors. Shay Given looked unfit and probably cost Ireland at least one goal. Croatia allowed space at the back and did not defend especially well. That’s not encouraging for a team now required to play on the back foot against Italy and Spain.
The Italians started off on a high note, though a defeat here and a Spanish win over Ireland could all but eliminate them.
[Photo via Getty]