Group C at these European Championships returns to action on Thursday as Italy take on Croatia in Poznan at noon ET., with live coverage avilable via ESPN3. It promises to be an engaging matchup after both sides performed admirably in their opening contests.
Italy overcame a host of negativity surrounding their side to match world and European champions Spain as coach Cesare Prandelli elected to opt for a 3-5-2 formation. Though injuries influenced that decision to an extent, such was its success that Prandelli has gone the same way against Croatia.
Daniele De Rossi excelled at the heart of a defensive trio, but will face a different kind of test against a conventional 4-4-2 formation deployed by Croatia.
At the other end, there is much anticipation to to once again see the maverick duo of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli in tandem up front. Despite facing criticized for his performance--and one missed opportunity in particular--against Spain, Balotelli keeps his place. That means goal-scoring substitute Antonio Di Natale must once again be content with a place on the bench.
Croatia are also unsurprisingly unchanged as they arrive off the back of a 3-1 victory over Ireland. Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic caused the Irish back line all sorts of problems in that match and will be looking to do something similar against Italy's back three.
While the personnel remain the same, it remains to be seen whether coach Slaven Bilic will be quite as expansive in his instructions against tougher opposition.
D: Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini
M: Maggio, Thiago Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini
F: Balotelli, Cassano
D: Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic
M: Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic
F: Mandzukic, Jelavic
Prediction: Croatia is likely to be happy to spend much of the game on the back foot, conceding both possession and territory to Italy. There remain serious question marks, though, as to whether the Croatian back line is up to the task. Even a poor Ireland side found some success going forward and Italy should be able to exploit this to greater effect.
Italy 2-1 Croatia