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Mandzukic earns Croatia a draw against Italy

Italy 1-1 Croatia 

Croatia came from behind to earn a point against Italy.

The Croatians went into the game with the luxury of three points in the bag and knowing that another win would see them through to the knockout rounds, while Italy were looking to build on their 1-1 draw against Spain. 

Italy created the first chance after two minutes. Emanuele Giaccherini crossed from the left and Mario Balotelli's shot on the turn was just wide.

Balotelli was involved again in the 11th minute but his shot was blocked, then Claudio Marchisio fired just over, before yet another chance fell Balotelli's way, only for Croatia keeper Stipe Pletikosa to block his effort.

Croatia appealed for a penalty when Nikica Jelavic tumbled in the box under a challenge from Giorgio Chiellini but referee Howard Webb judged that the foul was by the Everton striker and gave a free-kick to Italy.

Jelavic put Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon under pressure but Buffon was first to the ball, then Ivan Perisic sent a header straight at Buffon.

Balotelli tries his luck again

Italy created a chance after 32 minutes, but Antonio Cassano's shot was wide, then Balotelli tried his luck from long range.

Soon after, Marchisio was presented with a good chance but his shot was well saved by Pletikosa, who produced another good save to keep out Marchisio's follow up strike.

In the 39th minute, Italy finally made their pressure count as Andrea Pirlo (pictured) gave them the lead with a free-kick from the left that curled up and over the wall and inside the near post.

Italy almost grabbed a second before the break when Pirlo's corner was nodded past the near post by Cassano.

There were threats at both ends in the second half, with Luka Modric trying his luck on a couple of occasions and Giaccherini going close for Italy, before Balotelli sent a shot over the bar in the 61st minute. 

Croatia were level on 71 minutes, with Mario Mandzukic grabbing his third goal of the tournament. His first touch was not great following Ivan Strinic's far post cross, but his second touch was excellent as he fired in from close range via the inside of the near post.

Italy substitute Riccardo Montolivo's long range strike was blocked by Pletikosa, but it was Croatia who looked the likelier of the two sides to grab a winner.

Italy: Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini, Maggio, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Giaccherni, Balotelli, Cassano. Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna Obienza, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco, De Sanctis.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic, Jelavic, Mandzukic. Subs: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjic, Badelj, Dujmovic, Kranjcar, Kalinic, Eduardo, Subasic.

By Mark Roach

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