BotN: Croatia refuse to give in, grab socially awkward point with Italy
The Back of the Net gang report on Italy 1-1 Croatia
Croatia fought back to secure a 1-1 draw with Italy in Poznan, leaving everyone feeling a little awkward.
Cesare PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs Italy dominated the game from the off, penning the Croats back in their own half, erecting a makeshift customs checkpoint on the halfway line and forcing their opponents to fill in several complicated forms in order to enter Italian territory.
The pressure began to build as the caged Croatians struggled to repel the Italian occupation. Goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa made a series of superb saves and issued several impassioned rallying calls to his countrymen, but they fell upon deaf ears with the Croatian outfielders unwilling to mark themselves out as troublemakers.
But after Andrea PirloÃ¢ÂÂs magnificent free-kick put Italy 1-0 up, the mood amongst the oppressed Croat players seemed to shift.
Despite being offered a very reasonable surrender settlement at half-time that would have seen Italy awarded a 2-0 win in exchange for a ceasefire on the Croatian goal, Slaven Bilic commanded his men to fight on.
And Croatia mounted a stealth attack, sneaking Mario Mandzukic into the Italian half via a complex network of underground connections where the lethal marksman hooked the ball into the roof of the Italian net.
The decision angered and upset the Italian camp, who felt the settlement to be the gentlemanly solution to the conflict. The Azzurri famously won the 2006 World Cup after playing just 22 minutes of football thanks to Marcello LippiÃ¢ÂÂs series of expertly brokered deals.
The last 18 minutes were unpleasant with both sides looking at the clock frequently and yawning a little.
After the final whistle the players exchanged half-hearted handshakes with some of the Italian players even pretending to have to answer an important phone call in order to leave the pitch without swapping shirts.
The points were shared, leaving Group C tantalizingly poised but throwing grave doubts on whether Slaven BilicÃ¢ÂÂs invitation to Cesare PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs birthday barbecue on August 19th still holds.
More match reports from Back of the Net:
POR 3-2 DEN: Postiga karaoke triumph enrages bitter Ronaldo
GER 2-1 NED: Dutch defence, midfield, attack, kit, language the problem
POL 1-1 RUS: World's top statistician works on group permutations
GRE 1-2 CZE: Samaras's failure to score reinforces Greek belief in Samaras
UKR 2-1 SWE: Fairytale for Sheva as he scores, kills wolf, rescues princess