Having lost their last three international friendlies and gone to Eastern Europe with a cloud of alleged match fixing hanging over them; many dismissed the Italians before the start of the tournament. But having earned a 1-1 draw with World Champions Spain, the Azzurri will draw a lot of confidence heading into this encounter. Cesare Prandelli took a risk by playing a 3-5-2 formation against the Spanish, which paid off by providing a solid foundation for a number of swift counter-attacks. The Italian defence looked superb, only to be undone by a neat finish by Cesc Fabregas in the second half.
Croatia head into this clash as leaders of the group, after dismissing the Republic of Ireland by a scoreline of 3-1. Mario Mandzukic grabbed two goals, while Nikica Jelavic continued his scintillating form at club level by scoring the other. The clean sheet was marred by Vedran Corluka allowing Sean St Ledger to nod home an inswinging free-kick at the far post. Despite this, the Croatian defence did not allow the Irish to have too many shots on goal.
Slaven Bilic is expected to keep the same starting XI that started against the Republic of Ireland, with Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic providing firepower up front.
With the Croatians likely to field a 4-4-2, Italy could look to keep their 3-5-2 formation in order to have an extra man covering the two Croatian strikers. Mario Balotelli could look set to lose his place in the starting line-up after being substituted against Spain. His replacement, Antonio Di Natale, scored upon arrival on the field.
Croatia were able to retain the ball very well in midfield against Ireland, but will find it more difficult against the opposition central midfield three. As far as Italy are concerned, they want to stop Modric from spreading the play out wide to their wingers – Rakitic and Perisic. The Latter got forward well in the last game, and had some very good efforts on goal. Marchisio and Motta will look to nullify Modric, enabling Pirlo to have more time on the ball to influence play going forward. I think that possesion will be rather even in this encounter, with Italy will looking to deny Croatia space in the final third. Modric will be in for a long night, but English-based players are used to being targeted in big games like this.
Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini, Maggio, Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini, Cassano, Di Natale
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Vukojevic, Rakitic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic, Jelavic
Municipal Stadium, Poznan
Kick-off: 5PM on BBC1 & BBC1 HD
Referee: Howard Webb (England)
Like two rams clashing horns, Italy’s fabled defence meets a potent attacking team in Croatia. I think both teams will score in this encounter, but with Italy’s experience in International competitions reigning supreme. Watch out for the ability of Vedran Corluka to handle the two Italian strikers in an unfamiliar centre-back role.
Italy to win 2-1
Italy to win 2-1