When and where: The Group C matchup gets kicks-off from Stadion Miejski in Poznan, Poland, at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.
Preview: Having provided one of the most pleasantly surprising performances of the competition so far in their opening match against Spain, Italy return to the fold to take on Croatia in Poznan.
There was plenty of negativity surrounding the Italy side as they arrived in Poland. The country and the squad had been rocked with a match-fixing scandal that had led to the withdrawal of first-choice left-back Domenico Criscito. And things were not looking good with a 3-0 defeat to Russia in their only pre-Euro 2012 warmup.
With coach Cesare Prandelli opting for a largely untested 3-5-2 formation that featured the potentially combustible duo of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli up front things could have gone spectacularly wrong. Particularly given that their opponents were the European and World champions.
Instead, with Daniele De Rossi looking assured in the middle of a back three, veteran Andrea Pirlo running the show in the middle of the park and Cassano--only recently recovered from a stroke--causing all the right kinds of problems with his clever movement, Italy more than held their own.
The positive game plan that Prandelli has brought to the side since taking over two years ago was fully in evidence with a midfield packed with an ideal blend of energy and technical ability.
Though many pundits have harshly sought to overdramatize Balotelli's failure to pull the trigger when through on goal and subsequent substitution, Prandelli looks set tp stick with the enigmatic striker against Croatia. The one change that may take place is the more forward-thinking Antonio Nocerino for Thiago Motta.
Croatia also impressed on Sunday in a comfortable opening 3-1 win over Ireland. Both Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic were clinical in front of goal, quickly helping to erase the loss to injury of Ivica Olic on the eve of the competition.
The real star of the show, however, was Luka Modric who ran the show from an advanced midfield role. The Tottenham man's linkup play with Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic should again be crucial to their chances of success against Italy.
D: Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini
M: Maggio, Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini
F: Balotelli, Cassano
D: Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic
M: Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic
F: Jelavic, Mandzukic
Prediction: Regardless of what else transpires, the prospect of watching two of the great playmakers in the world, in Modric and Pirlo, square off promises to be an occasion to savor.
While both sides will feel that they have to get something from this game in order to make the last eight, it is Italy that promises to be the side actively seeking victory. For Croatia, though the personnel may remain the same, it should be a much more pragmatic side that takes on the Italians.
Italy's back three coped impressively with a Spain side electing to begin without a nominal striker. But it will be a very different attack that they will face against Croatia. Jelavic is likely to again start up front, playing high up against the defense and providing a much more direct threat, while two-goal hero Mandzukic will also need to be closely watched.
But it is Croatia's back line that could truly be exposed on Thursday. Ireland provided largely lackluster opposition in their encounter, yet when they did push forward Croatia's defenders looked far from assured. Something which an Italian side, featuring far more quality, will certainly be looking to exploit. Cassano, in particular, will once again be confident of causing problems peeling off to the left and taking advantage of Darijo Srna's attacking instincts.
Italy 2-1 Croatia