Three thoughts from the 1-1 draw between Italy and Croatia in Poznan, Poland.
1. Moving Luka Modric up the pitch changed the game. Credit Croatian manager Slaven Bilic for this one. In the first 45 minutes, Modric sat in a deep-playmaking position, effectively mirroring Andrea Pirlo on the other side. That gave Pirlo plenty of space to create and invent, and helped Italy generate a number of scoring chances. In the second half, Bilic moved Modric up the pitch, which had a double effect: It helped neutralize Pirlo and disrupted Italy's rhythm. It also put Modric in a position where he could exact maximum damage.
2. Who would have predicted that Mario Mandzukic would be the tournament's co-leading goal scorer? Answer: nobody. Mandzukic might not have even started if Ivica Olic had been fit. The big man is an atypical striker who often looks ungainly and unremarkable, but, just as he did against Ireland, he seized and converted his scoring opportunity. Giorgio Chiellini losing the cross in the Poznan night had a lot to do with it, of course. But that's football: it's a game of episodes which become disproportionately important when someone makes a mistake. Mandzukic was in the right place at the right time. Given the outcome, that's all that matters.
3. Cesare Prandelli needs a Plan B. When Italy is in full flow, everything is great. But the problems for the Azzurri should be familiar by now. Antonio Cassano, given his physical issues, can only last around an hour, particularly in a tournament in which players take the pitch every three days. Mario Balotelli gets yanked around the same time, possibly to protect him from his own destructive tendencies. And when Pirlo flags, as he did in the second half, and De Rossi has his hands full with an opponent that plays two strikers, there's a loss of Italian composure and ideas.
Prandelli tried to address the situation with Riccardo Montolivo, but it didn't work. That's not to say that Montolivo can't be the answer going forward, but when it's clear that Italy brings in two substitute strikers every match (Sebastian Giovinco and Antonio Di Natale for Cassano and Balotelli), it limits options elsewhere. Prandelli must either put his faith in Balotelli and leave him on the pitch for ninety minutes or have a big rethink.