What: Euro 2012 Group C
Who: Italy vs Croatia
When: Thursday 14th June, 2012, at 17.00 UK time
Where: Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland

Surprisingly Pretty Azzurri

In their Euro 2012 opener against Spain, Italy surprised by playing an attractive brand of football and creating many opportunities against the world champions. Coach Cesare Prandelli chose, just days before Euro 2012, to utilize a 3-5-2 system, replacing his preferred 4-3-1-2; the former was used with much success in Serie A by Napoli and Juventus last season. And a 1-1 draw against La Roja was a good solid start.

Against Croatia, Prandelli should adopt the same approach, meaning Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi will have to once again switch from the middle of the park to the centre of the backline. Mario Balotelli wasted a number of good chances against the Spaniards and the Azzurri coach may opt to go with Antonio Di Natale, scorer of the goal against Vicente del Bosque’s men, instead of the Manchester City striker.

In a 3-5-2 system, the wide players have increased importance and Prandelli will trust again in Christian Maggio on the right and Emanuele Giaccherini on the left. The Croatia clash could be vital for the Italians, who must overlook their very poor record in recent times against their near neighbours.

Confident of Progression

Slaven Bilic and Croatia’s “rock football” were impressive in the country’s opener against the Republic of Ireland. The Croat boss presided over a comfortable 3-1 win and is likely to send his side out in a classic 4-4-2 formation here. With three points on the board, Croatia can face Italy with concrete hopes of a quarter-final spot.

All Croatia do well appears to flow through Luka Modric, with the Tottenham Hotspur maestro setting the rhythm of the team. But up front Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic were in fine fettle as Croatia destroyed an embarrassed defensive line organised by veteran Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Mandzukic, who turns out for Wolfsburg, bagged a brace against the Irish (despite the second being “officially” classed as an own goal from goalkeeper Shay Given), while Jelavic looked quick and clever. Defensively there are question marks over Croatia, but another Tottenham star, Vedran Corluka, acts as a calming influence. Croatia could well represent the surprise package of Group C.

Recent form

Italy 1-1 United States (29/02; Friendly)
Italy 0-3 Russia (01/06; Friendly)
Italy 1-1 Spain (10/06; Euro 2012)

Croatia 3-1 Estonia (25/05; Friendly)
Norway 1-1 Croatia (02/06; Friendly)
Croatia 3-1 Republic of Ireland (10/06; Euro 2012)

Players to watch:

Italy – Daniele De Rossi: When Prandelli lost Andrea Barzagli to injury, he opted to move De Rossi from midfielder to the centre of a three-man defensive line. The Roma man played superbly against Spain, defending as a libero in a Franz Beckenbauer-esque display. More of the same is needed here.

Croatia – Nikica Jelavic: The Croatia striker enjoyed a good season at club level after joining Everton in the winter transfer window, and the early signs are that he has taken this form into Euro 2012. Bilic will count on Jelavic to frighten the Italian defence through solid physical play and quick darts into space.

Match Prediction

Both teams have reason to feel pleased with their opening matches, but now Italy need to grab a win to try to grab first spot in the group, with Spain still dangerous, while Croatia showed against Ireland that they are capable of qualifying.

When a 3-5-2 system comes up against a 4-4-2, superiority in midfield often represents the key to the match. It will be important that the Azzurri produce good football on the flanks through Maggio and Giaccherini, and Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Nocerino, if Prandelli selects the latter two. Croatia meanwhile will look to use their physical strength up front and quick attacking play. A draw looks more than possible. Italy 1-1 Croatia.

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