Striker Mario Mandzukic earned Croatia a 1-1 draw against Italy and strengthened Croatia's position in Group C on Thursday. Slaven Bilic's side now have four points from their first two games, with Spain to come in the final group match. Italy have just two, but will hope to gain their all-important win against Ireland.
Italy are still waiting for their first win over Croatia and their first win in this tournament. They seemed to have done enough to secure three points when they held a first-half lead until 18 minutes from the end, though they never played with much assurance and could not complain when Croatia came back at them to snatch a draw with Mandzukic's well-taken equaliser.
Mario Balotelli missed a few early opportunities to exploit hesitancy in the Croatia defence and Cassano rolled a shot across goal, but that was about it until Stipe Pletikosa was called upon a minute before Pirlo's goal to make a double save from Claudio Marchisio.
Italy went ahead after 39 minutes when Andrea Pirlo scored for 1-0. It was a goal of sheer class, indeed. Italy won a free-kick on the edge of the area, a fair way to the left of centre, after Balotelli was challenged by Rakitic. Pirlo did it with a beautiful free-kick that went over the wall and right in the corner at the near post. Pletikosa got a hand to it but couldn't keep it out.
Gianluigi Buffon was not exactly overworked in the Italy goal in the first half, though when Nikica Jelavic got within inches of turning in a right-wing cross from Darijo Srna at the near post midway through the first half it represented the best opportunity of the game at that stage from open play.
Croatian attacking intent appeared to have subsided altogether in the second half. Still, it was Balotelli who came closest to an Italian second with a rising drive over the bar before making way for Antonio Di Natale for the last 20 minutes.
Croatia forced their way back into the game and levelled after 72 minutes when Mandzukic scored to earn Croatia a draw and leave Group C wide open. Daniel Pranjic came on and changed the game for Croatia, sending over a deep cross from the left that Mandzukic controlled expertly and held off Giorgio Chiellini to score in a cool finish from a narrow angle off the underside of the bar.
Croatia have four points, Italy two, Spain one, while Ireland is without points.
Croatia (4-1-3-2): Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Vukojevic; Rakitic, Modric, Perisic; Jelavic, Mandzukic.
Subs: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjic, Badelj, Dujmovic, Kranjcar, Kalinic, Eduardo, Subasic.
Italy (3-5-2): 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.
Referee: Howard Webb (England)