A game of two halves: Croatia began as they had against Ireland, with Vukojevic as a single protective midfielder, Rakitic on the right and Mandzukic playing off Jelavic. While that was fine against the whipping boys of the group, Italy would pose much more of a creative threat. That was clearly the case in the first half as Italy dominated, Cassano creating four goalscoring chances and both Balotelli and Marchisio taking four shots.
Given Italy’s dominance, they deservedly took the lead, despite it being from a freekick which shouldn’t have been awarded. Pirlo’s attempt was slightly deflected and Pletikosa couldn’t keep it out.
Croatia adapt in the second half: Bilic adapted his set up for the second half, moving Rakitic infield from the right to sit more centrally alongside Vukojevic, and shifting Mandzukic from his second striker role out to the right. This added more presence to the centre of the pitch, and seized up Italy’s attacking machine.
This shift also allowed Modric more licence to express himself, as he was freed of the responsibility of helping Vukojevic in the centre. Instead, he was able to drift out to the left and drive forward with the ball more frequently, causing Italy problems with his runs and getting into shooting positions which he had not been able to reach in the first half.
Croatia would eventually find an equaliser with a cross from this left side, and a helping hand from Chiellini who misjudged the flight of the ball and got caught underneath it. It still took a phenomenal touch from Mandzukic to bring it down first time, before squeezing it in at the near post.
Italy were the dominant force in the first half, and headed in at the break with a deserved lead. Bilic reacted, shuffling his system without making substitutions, and his players showed fantastic adaptability to settle quickly into their new roles and dominate the second half.
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