CROATIA BATTLE BACK FOR POINT

Mario Mandzukic struck the equaliser as Croatia drew 1-1 with Italy in Euro 2012 Group C.

Last Updated: 02/07/12 at 16:08 Post Comment

Mario Mandzukic celebrates his equaliser.

Mario Mandzukic celebrates his equaliser.

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Mario Mandzukic notched a second-half equaliser as Croatia drew 1-1 with Italy in Euro 2012 Group C.

Cesare Prandelli's side started brightly in Poznan, with Mario Balotelli shooting just wide in the opening three minutes, while Claudio Marchisio blasted just over after Balotelli's effort was blocked.

At the other end, Nikica Jelavic had a penalty appeal turned down by referee Howard Webb after going down in the box tussling for the ball with Giorgio Chiellini.

Balotelli then won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Andrea Pirlo hit an exquisite free-kick to net the 39th minute opener.

Croatia improved after the break, with Luka Modric having two early shots, as well as a succession of corners.

Slaven Bilic's side then drew level when Mario Mandzukic slotted in off the post from close range with 18 minutes remaining to secure a point.

Croatia now sit behind Spain, who beat the Republic of Ireland 4-0, on goal difference in Group C so they need at least a 2-2 draw to progress to the quarter-finals.

That scoreline would put Italy, who have now drawn both of their matches, out on goals scored so they know victory over Ireland is required on Monday to be in with a chance of moving through.

Bilic hailed his Croatia side's battling qualities.

"Italy showed once again they're an exceptional team but I have to congratulate my team for showing willpower and character to fight back in the second half.

"We had a lot of problems containing Balotelli and Cassano in the first half because our midfield was stretched against theirs but we adjusted our strategy in the second half and threw more men forward."

Prandelli insists Italy will keep fighting for a spot in the last eight.

He told Rai tv: "We should have wrapped it up earlier for sure but we are still in it, we are alive and we will fight to the end.

"We had some good chances in the first half and could have done better. We missed a bit of energy and grit."

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