Croatia won’t curb its attacking instincts in its last European Championship group game against defending champion Spain even though a draw may be enough to take both teams to the quarterfinals at Italy’s expense.
“We’re a team who don’t know how to defend,” Croatia’s Vedran Corluka said in an interview in Poznan, Poland, last night following his team’s 1-1 draw against the Italians. “So we will play our own style, we will try to win.”
The result put Croatia and Spain, which routed Ireland 4-0 yesterday, on four points in Group C before their June 18 meeting at the 16-nation soccer tournament. Italy is two points back and needs to beat already eliminated Ireland on the same day to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.
If Italy wins and the other game is tied, the three teams will finish with five points and qualification would then be decided by their head-to-head records. The Italians have drawn both games 1-1, so a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would give both more goals in the matches among the three teams and put the Azzurri out.
Italy was eliminated at the group stage of the 2004 edition of the four-yearly tournament after Denmark and Sweden played to a 2-2 draw that ensured they advanced and Italy crashed out.
“We’re still convinced we can get through,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters after Mario Mandzukic’s 72nd-minute goal tied it for Croatia. “Mathematically, we are not out of it, but we have wasted an opportunity here.”
Italy dominated the opening period with Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano having shots at Stipe Pletikosa’s goal. The goalkeeper was unable to prevent Andrea Pirlo from putting Italy ahead with a 39th-minute free kick that curled away from his reach.
Croatia pressed during the second half and tied it when Ivan Strinic crossed for Mandzukic, who brought the ball down and shot into the net off the post. It was the striker’s third goal to tie Germany’s Mario Gomez and Russia’s Alan Dzagoev for the tournament lead.
“In the second half, we pushed them further to their own goal,” Corluka said. “It was the key.”
Italy is now without a win in six straight games at European Championship and World Cup tournaments, its longest streak without victory in major competitions, according to Infostrada Sports. The last triumph was a 2-0 win against France at Euro 2008.
“I feel that we are playing well,” Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told reporters. “We just need to be more clinical and try to kill off games when we have the chance.”