Croatia did what they were supposed to against the Irish, and with a win over Italy on Thursday, will clinch a quarterfinal berth at Euro 2012. However, Italy is no Ireland and adjustments must be made to ensure victory. Or do they?
Coach Slaven Bilić opted to slot captain Darijo Srna at right back for the Ireland game, opening up a spot in the midfield for Ivan Rakitić on the right side, alongside Ivan Perišić and Croatian ventriloquist Luka Modrić. The team looked fluid with Srna and left back Ivan Strinić overlapping in the midfield, putting numerous crosses onto the heads of strikers Mario Mandžukić and Nikica Jelavić. The whole team looked to be firing on all cylinders. But what was most impressive of Croatia’s play in the Ireland match, although it did not lead to a goal, was the outside shooting from the Vatreni. Perišić, Modrić and Rakitić all had blasts with pace on them while Darijo Srna tried to emulate Arjen Robben’s goal for Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in 2010, volleying a corner kick from outside the box.
We can all agree that Croatia played without fear against Ireland, but how will that performance translate against the Italians? Will coach Cesare Prandelli keep only three defenders at the back like he did against Spain, trying to maintain ball possession in the midfield? This means Croatia need a plan to be in counterattack mode. Mandžukić is sure to keep receiving service in the air after his two-goal performance vs. Ireland but what will the Croatian defense have to deal with? Prandelli is sure to start Antonio Di Natale after his goal against Spain instead of the ever-absent Mario Balotelli, who was booked and then subbed off against Spain on Sunday. Will Bilić keep Srna at right back, even though Italy has much more firepower than Ireland?
The assignment is an easy one for Croatia if they don’t want to deal with Spain in the group C finale: beat Italy. And with the energy they played with earlier in the week, this very well might be something they can accomplish.