After a promising start from both teams, former World Champions Italy meet Croatia in tonight’s first kick off, with the Azzurri on the hunt for maximum points.
The opening fixture for the Italian’s was packed to the brim with positives. Cesare Prandelli’s team were lauded for their revival of the 3-5-2 and rolled back the years with Daniele de Rossi playing the sweeper role at the back. And it turned out to be a tactical masterstroke against the similarly chin-stroking formation of 4-6-0 incorporated by the Spanish.
Antonio di Natale scored the opener for Italy after the evergreen 34 year old replaced misfiring misfit Mario Balotelli but Prandelli still may opt with the Manchester City striker for this next tie.
The Croatians however also excelled in their first game. Granted it was against weaker opposition, the game against Ireland was deemed as a must win for both teams who seeked the initial three points before going up against the giants of Italy and Spain in hope of qualification to the knockout stages.
Nikica Jelavic’s plucky finish and a Mario Mandzukic double gave Croatia enough to finish off the Irish but the Italian’s much more reliable and dependable defence may hinder their chances in front of goal.
However, one tactical advantage that the Croatia will have in their arsenal is the height difference between the teams. Italy find themselves third from bottom on the ‘tallest squad’ list whereas the Croatians are the tallest with an average height of 6ft 1. Whether Mandzukic, who has already scored two headers, could continue this run in front of goal is yet to be seen but the distinct height advantage will surely play into his favour.
A win for Croatia would be enough to send them through to the next round but it’s a big ask against this Italian team. Italy however will find themselves with a comfortable 4 points if they succeed in the tie but a draw is a result that the Italian’s would rather avoid.
Andrea Barzagli remains sidelined for the game which means that Daniele de Rossi continues his shift in the back three for Italy.
Asides from Barzagli’s absence, Prandelli will not have his hand forced to make any further changes but the Italian coach has stated in a press conference that there is one change he is mulling over in his mind which most believe will be the introduction of Antonio di Natale to the starting XI in favour of either Antonio Cassano or Mario Balotelli.
Croatia have no fresh concerns ahead of the game and Slaven Bilic is widely expected to name the same team which defeated Ireland 3-1 in the opening fixture.
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon, Chiellini, de Rossi, Bonucci; Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pirlo, Motta, Maggio; di Natale, Balotelli.
Croatia (4-4-2): Pletikosa; Corluka, Schildenfeld, Rakitic, Strinic; Perisic, Modric, Vukojevic, Srna; Mandzukic, Jelavic.
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