Euro 2012: Italy Will Ride Early Momentum to Victory over Croatia

Alex HallCorrespondent IIIJune 12, 2012

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Antonio Di Natale of Italy celebrates a draw with team mates during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

After their impressive 1-1 draw with Spain, the Azzurri will use the confidence built from that fixture to defeat Croatia Thursday.

The Croats started off Euro 2012 on a better note than the Italians with a 3-1 victory over Ireland, but Giovanni Trapattoni's squad is just not on the same level as the 2006 FIFA World Cup champions.

After a forgettable campaign during the 2010 edition of the World Cup and the Serie A game-fixing allegations, Italy came into Euro under the radar. However, as they showed against Spain, the Azzurri are not a team to take lightly.

Croatia is currently ranked No. 8 in the world by FIFA and showed nothing but dominance over the Irish for much of the match this past Sunday, but the Italians are motivated and more talented than the first team Slaven Bilic's squad defeated.

While the Croats do have Luka Modric, captain Darijo Srna and company looking impressive to start the battle for Europe, Italy's Antonio Cassano, Andrea Pirlo and "blue wall" defense took the Spanish to the limit.

Cassano, who had had minor heart surgery back in November of 2011, played a near-perfect game against the reigning Euro and World Cup champions. Though he didn't play the full 90 minutes, Cassano provided his teammates with timely passes and gave the Spanish defense fits during his time on the pitch.

Mario Balotelli started opposite Cassano on offense, and while the Manchester City man is known for his theatrics, he too provided some spark to the Azzurri attack.

If No. 9 simply shot the football when he made that deep run into the Spanish box, Italy could have pulled off the tournament's biggest upset.

Manager Cesare Prandelli saw his team put together its first goal thanks to substituting Balotelli for veteran Antonio Di Natale, who may just find himself starting against the Croats.

In an effort to keep Spain's star-studded offense at bay, Prandelli started three men on defense for Italy, but the less formidable Croatian attack could lead to three strikers starting for the Azzurri.

If Italy trots Di Natale, Cassano and Balotelli out to start the Thursday fixture, Croatia could see themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline this time around.

Danijel Pranjic of Bayern Munich anchors the Croat defense, but other than him this squad doesn't have the personnel to keep a three-pronged Italian assault on goal scoreless for 90 minutes.

Regardless of how the Italians lineup, if they come out against the Croats and play as well as they were able to against Spain, Italy will find itself with four points to its name in Group C.