Euro 2012 Preview: 3 Keys for Italy Against Croatia
The Croatians handled Ireland 3-1 and are set to bring a more direct approach than the Spanish did with their no-forwards formation.
With a chance to position themselves as group leaders, the Italians know a loss all but condemns them to an early Euro exit, so the pressure will be on to get a result.
Here are three key areas where the Italians need to make slight adjustments in order to ensure success against Croatia on Thursday.
1. Start Di Natale, Bench Balotelli
Already a hot topic of discussion, Mario Balotelli's performance wasn't bad against Spain.
It wasn't great by any stretch, either.
Showing signs that his already world-famous temper could ignite, not to mention the lollygagging to the point of getting Coach Riggins out for a speech, Balotelli was replaced by Antonio Di Natale, who promptly came in and scored.
Di Natale is a better fit for the system that manager Cesare Prandelli inserted into the squad recently since he plays in a similar system for Udinese in Serie A.
Starting Di Natale gives the Italians more fluidity up front and a major impact sub off the bench, whatever that impact might be.
2. Is the Defense Ready for an Actual Forward?
One of the odd parts of the game plan that Spain trotted out was a complete absence of a recognized forward.
With no one to watch, the defense was relatively calm in dealing with the threat of the Spanish midfield, with the only exception being Giorgio Chiellini's sudden impulse to open up half of the field to Cesc Fabregas to score in.
Once Fernando Torres hit the scene, however, the Italian defense, namely Daniele De Rossi, looked confused as to what their aims were.
Croatia will utilize Nikica Jelavic up front with Mario Mandzukic playing off the lead forward. It creates a 3v2 situation for the Italians at the back, but are they comfortable enough playing the system to handle it?
That part of the pitch will dictate a lot of how the match should unfold because the midfield will have a different task to complete.
3. Limiting Luka Modric
Luka Modric is the hub of the Croatian attack, much in the same way that Andrea Pirlo is the center of the Italian offense.
Within the 3-5-2, Pirlo had a great match against Spain with plenty of blue shirts around him to pass to, making it difficult for the Spaniards to press effectively.
Limiting Modric, however, will be Italy's main task in their match with Croatia.
It may fall on the shoulders of Claudio Marchisio or Thiago Motta to move forward and limit the space for Modric, as Antonio Cassano will likely be pressed to the right side to help defend the runs of Croatia defender Darijo Srna.
In any case, the regista who is best at moving the ball around for his squad will likely move his team into a comfortable position within Group C.