Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring from a direct free-kick just six minutes before the break but Croatia were a much different side after the restart and got a deserved equaliser from Mario Mandzukic in the 72nd minute.
- After losing almost every man-to-man matchup in the opening period Croatia played a much more responsible second half and were rewarded when Mandzukic controlled Ivan Strinic’s excellent cross before finishing powerfully from point-blank range to restore level terms.
- Strinic, who along with Ivan Perisic had been pinned back by Christian Maggio in the first half, was a difference-maker after the break. His cross from the left-touchline that produced the Mandzukic goal looped exquisitely over the defense before falling at the feet of the Wolfsburg forward.
- Georgio Chiellini barely put a foot wrong on this night, but the one time he was found out of position proved to be crucial as he left Mandzukic wide open at the corner of a gaping goal.
- Italy made the brighter start of the two sides and even got a mostly positive performance from striker Mario Balotelli, who had three early shots on goal. Balotelli brought his shooting boots to Poznan—a reaction, no doubt, to the criticism he received after failing to take his chances against Spain on Sunday.
- Italy midfielders Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio absolutely ran the show in the opening 45 minutes and time and again launched long, arching passes to Balotelli and Cassano, who were trying to run in behind the Croatian defense. Had more of the attempts connected the Azzurri might well have led by more than a goal at the halftime whistle.
- Pirlo scored the competition’s first goal from a direct free-kick when, following a Darijo Srna foul on Balotelli, his effort went up and over the wall and tickled Croatian goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa’s fingers before bulging the back of the net inside the near post. At the time it was the least Italy deserved.
- Croatia were much more settled after the restart and Luka Modric began to take control on the edge of the attacking third. The Tottenham playmaker was especially useful off the ball, making short, quick runs into useful space so as to provide a passing outlet for his teammates. The 26-year-old also ventured back into his own end to put himself into the occasional tackle and was his side’s most important player of the second half.
- Nikica Jelavic was replaced by Eduardo in the 83rd minute after a mostly disappointing display. Having been completely manhandled by Bonucci and Chiellini in the first half he failed to make an imprint in the match—something that became even clearer as Mandzukic began to figure out the Italian defense as the game wore on.
- Croatia will almost certainly be issued a warning by UEFA (and probably fined as well) for the behaviour of their fans in Poznan. On several occasions during the second half the match had to be stopped as smoke from flares thrown onto the pitch wafted over the ground. There were also reports of racist chants being directed at Balotelli in the first half. Russia, who have also caught the ire of European football’s governing body, were handed a suspended six-point deduction for Euro 2016 qualifying on Wednesday and fined €120,000.
- With the draw, Croatia have yet to lose to Italy since independence. In seven matches they have won three times, drawn four, scored nine goals and conceded five.
1. Andrea Pirlo
2. Mario Mandzukic
3. Luka Modric
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer