The 2006 World Champions were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at the Poznan Municipal Stadium, to leave their hopes of qualifying for the quarterfinals looking distinctly wobbly, after Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scored his third Euro 2012 goal in two games to cancel out a delicious Andrea Pirlo free kick that gave the Italians the lead in the first half.
The two sides came into this Group C game with contrasting moods; the Croatians were fresh off a clinical 3-1 defeat of the Republic of Ireland while Italy could just about manage a 1-1 draw against defending champions Spain. Slaven Bilic's Croatia would have been guaranteed a quarterfinal berth had they beaten their opponents of Thursday evening but as it turned out, they would have left Poznan pleased with a draw and a point.
The game started with Italy clearly in the ascendancy. In fact, the first 45 minutes was all about the Azzurri, with Juventus' Pirlo rolling back the years. The 33 year old former AC Milan player was once hailed as one of the best deep-lying playmakers in the world and against Croatia, who afforded him far too much room, he showed more than a few glimpses of that talent.
Coach Cesare Prandelli's side went attacking right from the outset, with shots on goal after just three minutes. Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli fired just wide. Juventus' Claudio Marchioso also got in on the action, shooting wide from 20 yards out. Balotelli and AC Milan forward Antonio Cassano then took centre stage; both players creating quite a lot of trouble for the Croatian back line.
Despite a golden chance to score against the run of play - Everton striker Nikica Jelavic failed to connect - Croatia finally conceded the opening goal. Midfielder Ivan Ratikic fouled Balotelli near the penalty box and Pirlo fired inside the right hand post.
Italy had several more chances to finish the game, both in the remaining minutes of the first half and in the second half and Prandelli will now be cursing the fact they did not take at least one. Croatia came out after half time a much changed and more energised side, with Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric leading the charge. The want-away Croat was pulling all the strings for his country but it was left to defender Ivan Strinic to feed Mandzukic from deep on the left wing. The now joint leading goal scorer of the tournament (Germany's Mario Gomez and Russia's Alan Dzagoev also have three each) made no mistake and Italy slumped to yet another draw.
Despite protestations of looking to play attractive attacking football, it begins to look as if the Azzurri, assuming they qualify for the quarterfinals, will do so the traditional Italian way - unbeaten and with just enough points in the bag.
All four teams in Group C will be in action again on Monday evening, when Spain play Croatia and Italy go up against the Republic of Ireland. As per tournament rules, the alst rround of group games will take place simultaneously, which means both games will kick off at 7.45 pm (BST). As of now, Spain lead the table from Croatia (both have four points but Spain have a better goal difference). Italy are third with two points while Ireland have still to score a point.
If Italy, and they should, beat Ireland on Monday, then unless they do so by at least two goals, both Spain and Croatia will go through, the latter on goal difference, providing neither lose. Basically, Italy must beat Ireland and hope there is a definite result in the other game, to ensure qualification.