taly had numerous first-half chances from Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano, but it was Andrea Pirlo who gave Italy the lead with a curving free kick in the 39th minute. The Italian veteran sent the ball over Croatia’s wall and just inside the near post. Croat goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa could only get a weak hand on it when the ball was already inside his net.
Instead of capitalizing on their advantage, the Italians preferred to sit back and absorb Croatia’s attacks. And they were punished for being overcautious. Mario Mandzukic found himself unmarked in the box and equalized 18 minutes from time.
Having already claimed three goals at the tournament, the Wolfsburg forward joined Russia’s Alan Dzagoev and Germany’s Mario Gomez on top of the best goalscorers list.
In the final round of group matches on Monday, Italy, with two points after two games, face underdogs Ireland, while Croatia take on Spain with both teams having 4 points.
“The squad is alive and we’ll fight to the end,” Italy’s head coach Cesare Prandelli pledged.