Drink: Old Pal
With Spain seemingly the odds-on favorite to win the group and the Irish looking like they could use a few pints after Croatia thumped them, the second team to come out of Group B was likely to come from the morning match today, Italy v Croatia. The Italians put in a fair performance in their first match draw against Spain, while the Croats delivered the aforementioned slaughter. Hence, it was the early contest that held more intrigue.
Italy 1 – Croatia 1
To discuss this game is to analyze the Italians, as they decided its fate. In the first half, Italy loved creating chances and making sure the back of Croatia’s net was kept safe from the ball’s harm. The main culprit, and the one who is getting all of the blame, is lightning-rod Mario Balotelli. Time and again, the young Italian had the ball in dangerous positions and kept finding ways to blow it. But not all was lost for the Azzurri, as in the 39th minute Andrea Pirlo did what he does on a free kick just outside the left corner of the penalty box. The veteran looped the ball perfectly over the Croat wall and tucked it inside the near post. Buenafesta!
There is only one huge Italian no-no, and that is lying to a nun. I really wish they would expand to two and add packing it in with a one goal lead. That was the unfortunate theme for the second half. Being a primarily defensive-minded squad, this is a common Italian tactic, and it has helped them win the second most World Cups. However, it is boring AND did not work today. Croat Mario Mandzukic took advantage of terrible marking by Giorgio Chellini and buried a casual cross home. To respect the wretchedness of this marking, one must understand that Chellini is not only a talented defender, but is also 1.86 meters tall (that is like eight feet in American). Additionally, the cross was so nabbly-pambly as it nonchalantly floated through the air that one could have smoked a clove and still headed it out. While the Italian defense letdown, the Croat fans lived up to their name, bombing the stadium with flares – soccer’s proudest tradition (Toni Kukoc would have been proud). The smoke became so intense that Italian goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon, said he could not see and the match was temporarily delayed.
So now Italy needs a win over the hapless Irish, as anything less will knock them out of the tournament. A Croat win guarantees the them to go through, but they have a tall order of payaya with the Spanish, who put the Irish to rest. With the loss, Ireland are all but eliminated, and thank Christ. I am not sure Michael Ballack had ever seen the Irish and Greeks play before stating at the beginning of the tournament that the Euros featured the best 16 teams outside of Brasil and Argentina. It will be a relief when those two broke-ass, debt-ridden teams are no longer in the tourney. And no doubt that the Poles and Ukrainians will be happy to get them out of their respective nations, as I am sure they are writing checks their butts can’t cash.