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We went minute-by-minute as Italy and Croatia fought it out to strengthen their claims for a place in the quarter-finals.

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Italy 1-1 Croatia

So here we are. It’s either the beginning of what could one of the greatest nights in Irish sporting history — or else it’s the beginning of a rather swift, unceremonious end. But before that, there’s business to attend to in Poznan where Italy and Croatia go head-to-head in a bid to escape the tricky Group C.

Kick-off is at 5pm — which is just 20 minutes away — so let’s get this party started.

First things first, let’s get the teams out of the way. No changes for the Italians which means that Antonio di Natale starts on the bench once again. Just the 29 goals for Udinese this season, no biggie…

Italy: Buffon; Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini; Maggio, Marchisio, Pirlo, Motta, Giaccherini; Cassano, Balotelli.

No changes either for Slaven Bilic’s Croatia. Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic are retained up front after their goalscoring exploits against Ireland last Sunday and so Eduardo — formerly of Arsenal, now of Shakhtar Donetsk — is on the bench.

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic; Jelavic, Mandzukic.

As the teams come out onto the Poznan pitch, a quick reminder of how thing stand in Group C. A win for Croatia tonight would see them through to the quarter-finals, though not necessarily as group winners, while Italy really need all three points to strengthen their hand.

And from an Irish perspective? Well as my colleague Hugh O’Connell has just informed me from his seat on the other side of the office, we either need Croatia to win both of their games or lose both of their games — no middle ground, them’s the facts. I reckon an Italian win here is our best bet.

We’ve just had the final bars of Il Canto degli Italiani, so what better time to remind you of the players who picked up a booking in the first game. Another this evening and they’ll miss the final group game on Monday – ouch!

Italy: Chiellini, Bonucci, Maggio, Balotelli.

Croatia: Modric, Kranjcar (sub).

KICK OFF: The wonderful countdown clock has decreed that it is time to start, so start we must.

First chance of the game falls to Italy and it’s everybody’s favourite Mario — well, maybe second-favourite Mario after Herr Gomez’s exploits last night. Giaccherini finds Balotelli with his back to goal 10 yards out. Corluka gives him enough space to turn and Balo whistles a low shot just outside Pletikosa’s right post.

Five minutes played… the Italian defence has lasted longer than ours did anyway.

Cassano whips a dangerous ball into the Croatian six yard box and with Marchisio lurking around the back post, Perisic slices it high into the Poznan sky and over Pletikosa’s bar for a corner… which comes to nothing.

Oof, what a strike by Marchisio. As Schildenfeld ambles out to close him down on the edge of the box, the Juve star whistles one just over Pletikosa’s bar from 20 yards out. That one was greeted by a collective intake of breath in TheScore HQ. Lively enough start to the game.

Another half-chance for Balotelli who takes a touch on the edge of the box before firing straight at Pletikosa who parries. Italy have certainly had the best of the chances in this opening 15 minutes and it’s largely due to the amount of space Balotelli is being allowed by the Croatian centre-halves.

As an aside, does anybody else think that RTÉ commentator Stephen Alkin sounds like he’s saying “Cian Healy” when he’s trying to pronounce “Chiellini”? No? Just us so.

A penalty shout for Croatia as Jelavic and Chiellini go to ground together in the box but our referee this evening, a certain Mr Howard Webb, awards a free-out instead. It looked like Jelavic had a tug at the Italian’s arm as he came around the back so that decision’s spot on.

Here’s a little snapshot of you’re all feeling over on’s Facebook page. An Italian win so, yeah?

Croatia send forward the heavy artillery of Corluka and Schildenfeld as Srna prepares to whip a free into the box from a dangerous position. His effort comes off the wall and behind for a corner, which Perisic heads straight at Buffon. Croatia have come into the game a lot more in the last 10 minutes.

Croatia seem happy enough to let Italy shoot from outside the box. Balotelli has another pop but again, it fails to trouble Pletikosa.

Italy really should be in front but a fine double-save from Pletikosa has kept Croatia on level terms. A lovely turn by Marchisio takes him inside the despairing slide of Srna but his first shot is well blocked by the Croatian stopper and then, after creating the angle for himself on the second, his shot is saved again.

GOAL! Italy 1-0 Croatia (Pirlo, 39′) Hello hello — Italy take the lead through a free-kick from the little magician Andrea Pirlo. The Juve midfielder bends his shot up and over the wall from 20 yards and Pletikosa can’t get over to his right post quickly enough, looking on in despair as he palms it into the side of his own net.

Game on, Jeff.

We’re into the one and only minute of time added on at the end of this first half.

HALF TIME: Italy 1-0 Croatia

A thoroughly entertaining first half comes to a close. The Italians have been really quite impressive — bodes well for those of us hoping to see them win tonight; not so great when you remember that we still have to play them on Monday.

I’ll be back in five.

SECOND HALF: We’re back again for the second half.

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you news of the Spanish team to face Ireland in Gdansk:

Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Silva, Torres, Iniesta.

Modric gets away from Bonucci and has a pop from 20(ish) yards but Buffon isn’t bothered, waving it nonchalantly over the bar. Much I like I used to wave at planes flying by the house when I was a little ‘un. Simpler times.

Here’s a real stat for you. That Pirlo goal was the first directly scored from a free-kick in the European Championships since Euro 2004.

The Croatian fans are at it again; they’ve lobbed another flare on to the pitch, delaying the game.

“So dangerous. Those things are not just red, but white hot,” Stephen Alkin informs us.

If Italy are to get a second, Balotelli looks like one of the more likely candidates. He takes a few strides towards goal before firing a shot in at Pletikosa’s goal but it’s always rising and ends up with the fans in the stands.

62′: Italy make the first change of the match as Montolivio comes on to replace Thiago Motta. That should help the Italians get back on top and control the midfield a bit more.

68′: Croatia make their first change as Pranjic comes on for Perisic. They’re still very much in this game, mainly by hassling and harrying the Italians in possession with some strong challenges, but they’re not doing a huge amount with the ball going forward.

69′: That’s the end of Balotelli’s evening. He makes way to give Antonio di Natale a run for the final 20 minutes. He had 29 goals for Udinese this season so he certainly knows how to find the goal.

GOAL! Italy 1-1 Croatia (Mandzukic, 72′) Croatia get their equaliser and it’s that man Mario Mandzukic — he really likes scoring in Poznan, doesn’t he? Strinic sends a beautiful cross into the back post where Chiellini misjudges his header, allowing Mandzukic in behind him. He has time to take a touch and steady himself, and as Buffon flings himself out to narrow the angle, he hammers the ball off the inside of the post and in.

Well well well…

BREAKING: Here is your Ireland team. Just the one change with Simon Cox in up top to replace Kevin Doyle.

Given, O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward, McGeady, Whelan, Andrews, Duff, Keane, Cox.

Montolivo is booked for a foul on Mandzukic. 10 minutes to play.

Three minutes to play here. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Ireland would really really like an Italian goal here.

Srna tries to find Eduardo with a lofted ball into the box but Chiellini cuts it out. 90 seconds to play…

We will have FIVE minutes of injury time. Howard Webb must think he’s back in Old Trafford *cough cough*

If I learned anything on Sunday night, it’s that Mario Mandzukic a) is a good finisher and b) really likes rolling around on the ground feigning pain when he’s not really hurt at all. He’s doing it now so we’re going to have more stoppage time than the five minutes previously indicated.

90+4′ – Kranjcar is on for Mandzukic. Pirlo’s cross is cleared by the first man and that could be the last chance of the evening.

FULL TIME: Italy 1-1 Croatia

So that’s it. Mario Mandzukic strikes again and Croatia remain on top of Group C with four points; Italy move into second with two; while Spain and Ireland trail behind on one and a big fat nothing respectively ahead of their meeting in Gdansk tonight.

About the author:

Niall Kelly