Italy v Ireland, June 18, 7.45pm
June 17 ~ Attacking football is the defining characteristic of Euro 2012 so far and Italy's 1-1 draw with Croatia on Thursday night proved no different. The Italians dominated the first half before Croatia controlled the second, with both sides able to present a reasonable case for winning the game. The draw, coupled with Spain's emphatic win over Ireland, puts Italy on the brink of elimination in familiar circumstances.
Back at Euro 2004, Giovanni Trappatoni's Italy headed into the final round of group games knowing that they needed to beat Bulgaria, and hope that Denmark and Sweden didn't draw 2-2 (or 3-3, 4-4 etc). Thanks to complex rules regarding the sorting of groups in the event of equal points between three teams, that scoreline would send both Denmark and Sweden through and the Azzurri crashing out.
After half-heartedly trying to convince themselves in the media that it would never happen, the Scandinavians contrived to draw 2-2 deeming Italy's 2-1 win over Bulgaria inconsequential. Italy cried foul but their plea fell on deaf ears. They were out and Trapp was sacked.
In 2012, incredibly the same situation has played out, as a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia on Monday would again send Italy home, regardless of how they do against Ireland. Azzurri midfielder Thiago Motta was asked if he thought a deal would take place between Spain and Croatia, answering "I'm sure Spain will try to beat Croatia whatever happens. We are professionals and I doubt there would be an agreement at the Euros."
Coach Cesare Prandelli was quick to defend his players after the draw, concentrating more on the good first half than the poor second. "Of course we can still believe in qualification, absolutely. We dominated the first period and had a number of chances to score more. After the break, we knew they would come forward more but we lacked the energy and enthusiasm of our opponents."
Voting via Gazzetta Dello Sport, fans thought Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli were responsible for the failure to win, with over half the voters blaming too many missed chances. A further 28 per cent believed that Prandelli did not change the team in time to stop the Croatia fightback that led to their goal.
Should Spain and Croatia finish 2-2 and Italy head home tomorrow night, before blaming others and conspiracies, perhaps Prandelli will realise the problem was a little closer to home. Charles Ducksbury