Mario Mandzukic's cool finish gave Croatia a 1-1 draw after a wonderful free kick from Andrea Pirlo
Preamble The book says this is a Group C fixture between Italy and Croatia, but in nature it's a second-round knockout match. If either side loses in Poznan today they may as well turn their back on the tournament, because they would need snookers (i.e. Ireland to take some points and/or Croatia to beat Spain) to have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals. A draw here would favour Italy, after their excellent result against The Spanish Art Project on Sunday. The fetid supercentenarian clairvoyant who relieved me of £20 on the way into work reckons this is going to be a humdinger.
Kick off is at 5pm.
Urgent question that has nothing whatsoever to do with this game What make of boot is Marco van Basten wearing in this picture? (Yes, yes it is that goal.) They look a bit like a Woolworths version of Nike, with not so much a swoosh as a walking stick.
The first person to send in the correct answer receives a surge of pride and, more worthless still, an acknowledgement in tomorrow's Joy of Six.
Thanks to Warren McGiveron and Johan Hilditch, who were first to point out that Marco van Basten was wearing Cruyff Sportswear when he scored that astonishing volley against the Soviet Union in 1988. "They still make all sorts of sportswear at exorbitant prices," says Warren, "such as the shoes I'm wearing at the moment."
Cruyff influencing a major final? Who knew?
To more important matters, and thanks to my colleague James Dart for this glorious clip. Should Italy lose today, let's hope they take it a little better than this chap.
Team news Both sides are unchanged.
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini; Maggio, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Giaccherni; Balotelli, Cassano.
Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna Obienza, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo,
Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco, De Sanctis.
Croatia (4-1-3-2): Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Vukojevic; Rakitic, Modric, Perisic; Jelavic, Mandzukic.
Subs: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjic, Badelj, Dujmovic, Kranjcar, Kalinic, Eduardo, Subasic.
Referee: Howard Webb (England)
Another great link from James Dart. Here's Johan Cruyff as Arthur Daley.
Here's another classic: Don Rushie. If you have any favourite naff sportswear adverts/football photos from the past, send them in.
Had your fill of football? If so, you can follow the first round of the US Open with Twitter's Scott Murray.
4.54pm "Evening Rob!" chirps jauntiness's Ryan Dunne. "Speaking as one of the many fans of both the Glorious Glasgow Rangers and the Azzurri, I'm surprised Italy haven't been given more credit for bringing so much to this Euro table (as it were). Three at the back! Two up front! Balotelli! Italy, surely, should be the neutral's favourite, ahead of the stodgy guff of Ireland, or the same-old same-old self-destructive Dutch."
And gay rights champion Antonio Cassano! It's true though, you have to love Italy at a major tournament. Nobody does preposterous operatic melodrama to anywhere near the same level.
4.55pm "Not an ad, unless you count the iconic 1991 baggy Joe Bloggs shirt, but still my fave of hundreds of spurious, he's signed for Forest photo op demands to dress as Robin of Sherwood," says my colleague Rob Bagchi. Just look at this link. I have a horrible feeling I had a Joe Bloggs top in 1991. Worse still, I have a horrible feeling I wore it as well, along with those diabolical two-tone jeans that were fashionable for approximately four seconds in the spring of 1991. Look, I was a teenager.
1 min Italy kick off from left to right. They are in blue; Croatia are in their familiar grand prix red and white.
2 min "Speaking of naff endorsements and Gary Lineker – did anyone but him ever wear Quasar football boots?" says Stephen Holford. "I completely fell for it and had a pair two sizes too big when I was 10… I still couldn't score any goals." I bet you ate crisps with a lovable boyish grin though.
3 min A fine early effort from Mario Balotelli. He was surrounded by defenders as he controlled Emanuele Giaccherini's cross from the left, 12 yards from goal, but spun sharply to belt a left-footed snapshot just wide of the near post.
5 min It'll be a different experience for Italy's back three today, what with Croatia fielding some attackers. The game hasn't settled down yet.
7 min Perisic shanks a cross onto the roof of his net for a corner. Pletikosa had it covered. Pirlo's corner is cleared. Is it it pronounced Peer-low or Purr-low?
8 min Jelavic spins Chiellini on the halfway line and is bundled over. He could have been booked for that, I suppose, but Howard Webb settles for a warning. Jelavic looks sharp, as usual.
10 min "Robin Hood had a bow & arrow, not a sword," says Louis Wright. "Clearly the photographer was too terrified to insist on 'historical' accuracy. I reckon that's Roy's own sword that he kept about him at all times and refused to put down for any fecking photo shoot. That's what the little smile is, he's thinking of the vengeance he's about to wreak with his sword."
11 min Cassano's excellent deep cross/pass from the right wing picks out Balotelli, whose shot from 15 yards is blocked. It comes back to Marchisio, 25 yards from goal, and he whistles a wonderful left-footed rising drive a fraction over the bar. I think Pletikosa might just have had it covered; either way, it was a stunning effort.
12 min "Peer lo," says Kathryn Bastian. "As in Peer Less, but I might say that because I'm his #1 fan." This seems to be the consensus. I only asked because the BBC commentator, Simon Brotherton, is calling him "Purr-low." John Motson does that as well. This, I'm sure you'll agree, is fascinating stuff.
14 min Pirlo, wandering imperiously around the halfway line, drives a sumptuous 40-yard pass over the top. Balotelli is just beyond the defence, but instead of taking it down with a view to shooting he tries to lay it back to Cassano. His touch is imprecise and Croatia clear. He probably made the wrong decision there, which is not something you can say about Mario Balotelli very often.
16 min Balotelli is looking lively and slams a 20-yard snapshot straight at Pletikosa, who punches clear. That was a decent effort, very well hit with hardly any backlift.
17 min "My Mum, God bless her, speaks the Italian," says Robert McBride. "She tells me it's all about elongating the Pier and then a hard stop on the Loh. She also tells me to wash behind my ears and settle down soon."
18 min The zesty Balotelli wins another corner, which comes to nothing. Italy are having the better of this.
19 min Howard Webb almost has a moment. Strinic put in a superb left-wing cross towards Jelavic, who was challenged by Chiellini. Both fell over in a manly heap, and when Howard Webb started sprinting URGENTLY towards the scene I thought he was going to give a penalty. In fact the assistant referee gave a foul against Jelavic. We've only seen one replay so it's hard to tell either way; the consensus on the BBC was that it was the right decision. Moments later, Jelavic is only a couple of feet away from meeting Srna's dangerous low cross at the near post.
21 min "Don't sweat it, Rob, we all wore Joe Bloggs stuff in 1991," says Brian Hudner. "And sported haircuts later reprised by Jim Carrey in 'Dumb and Dumber'. And danced in that gurning, nodding dog way that we thought was Ian Brown, but was actually closer to Christy." Yeah, there was something in the air in 1991. Desperate stupidity, mainly.
24 min Mark the date and the time: Andrea Pirlo has just misplaced a pass.
26 min You would expect Croatia to threaten on the flanks, where they theoretically have two against one, and that is starting to happen now. Giaccherini concedes a foul just outside the right corner of the box. Srna's free kick takes two deflections and goes behind for a corner.
27 min Srna's corner is headed gently towards goal by Perisic and claimed easily by Buffon.
29 min Cassano makes a fool of Schildenfeld down the right wing with a lovely turn. He bursts into the area but can't decide whether to shoot, cross or attempt to become a gay icon. While he's deciding what to do, Schildenfeld gets back to challenge.
30 min "So long as No1 fans are writing in, is there an endorsement as ridiculous as Buffon saving the world from a giant bikini-clad woman with no demonstrable use of Puma products?" says Kat Stratton, who already knows the answer to this one.
32 min A lobbed ball through from Cassano causes an inordinate amount of trouble, with Croatia defenders slipping and sliding all over the show. It comes out to Marchisio, whose long-range shot deflects wide.
33 min Bonucci, on the way back when the resulting corner is half cleared, clips an excellent first-time pass behind the defence to Cassano, and he drags a shot on the turn wide of the far post. That was a decent effort from a tight angle, even though he was only seven yards from goal
34 min "Usually in the Italian the stress is on the last syllable," says Anna Arabindan-Kesson. "The first half should be something like a build up to this accent and flattened out, less like Pierre in the French."
37 min Pletikosa makes an outstanding double save from Marchisio! A wonderful angled pass from Cassano found Marchisio ten yards from goal; he got away from Srna with an awkward Cruyff turn and hammered the ball at goal with his left foot. Pletikosa beat that effort away and then sprawled to his right to repel Marchisio's follow up.
GOAL! Italy 1-0 Croatia (Pirlo 39) A goal of sheer class. Italy won a softish free-kick on the edge of the area, a fair way to the left of centre, after Balotelli was challenged by Rakitic. Pirlo has always been a master at getting it up and down from 18.00001 yards, and he did it again with a beautiful free-kick that went over the wall and right in the corner at the near post. Pletikosa got a hand to it but couldn't keep it out. That was an effortlessly suave free-kick from one of the most elegant footballers in the world. Actually, it wasn't a free-kick; you can't call that a kick. It was a free-caress.
40 min Modric has been quiet thus far, possibly the result of a sleepless night grieving for Harry Redknapp. Croatia need to get him in the game.
42 min Italy have been really good in this half, taking control of the match almost imperceptibly to the point where Croatia now desperately need half-time. That was almost 2-0. Pirlo's right-wing corner is headed just over the angle of post and bar by Cassano, who leapt between two defenders in front of the near post. Italy have had 11 attempts on goal to Croatia's two.
44 min "My man-love for Pirlo has reached new levels," says my colleague Ian McCourt, inexplicably misspelling my surname.
45+1 min A sharp break from Croatia ends with Mandzukic bringing a rudimentary save from Buffon with a low shot from the right side of the box.
Half time: Italy 1-0 Croatia Italy have been excellent, Croatia not so good. They need to get their act together because, as things stand, they will need to beat Spain to avoid elimination. See you in 10 minutes.
If the description of the goal has not appeared, press F5. We have a problem with the auto-refresh.
Half-time chit-chat "Surely the stress is usually on the penultimate syllable," says Matthew Charlesworth. "CassAno, PIRlo, BaloTELLi, NocerINo, MozzarELLa." I always rated Mozzarella. That goal he scored against Ancona in 1984-85!
Half-time chit-chat (II) Here's the final word on Pirlo (possibly), from George Ferzoco. "Trust me, Rob, I'm a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. Here's how to pronounce the surname of the Italian midfielder, Andrea Pirlo. Emphasis is on the first syllable, pronounced exactly like 'pier' (as in 'a structure leading out from the shore into a body of water'). The second syllable is pronounced exactly like 'lo', as in the nativity scene (Luke 2:9, King James Version): 'And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.'"
46 min Croatia kick off the second half.
47 min Modric moves smoothly away from De Rossi on the edge of the box before scuffing a shot that is easily saved by Buffon.
48 min "I think this is the definitive pronunctiation of Pirlo's name," says Phil Sawyer. Now that's more like it. From hereon in I wish to be known as Rrrrrrrrob Smyth.
49 min Modric uses Rakitic's overlapping run as a dummy before coming infield and whistling one over the bar from 25 yards.
50 min "This MBM is badly lacking the Howard Webb clown graphic," says Joe Ackroyd. Only Scott Murray, the creator of the graphic, knows where it's kept. Mind you, there's been no real need for it. Mr Howard has done a very good job.
51 min Modric is noticeably further forward in this half, to the point where it's almost a diamond midfield rather than a 4-1-3-2. Tactics.
53 min Croatia earn a corner down the left wing. Perisic at the near post actually flicks it away from goal, the doofus, and although Croatia keep possession it comes to nothing when a long cross from the left drifts harmlessly out of play.
56 min There's a break in play because a couple of flares have been thrown near the touchline. PC Howard Webb restores order, and a few seconds later Strinic's shot is deflected wide for a corner. This is a decent spell for Croatia.
57 min Thiago Motta is booked for tugging Jelavic to the ground before the corner is taken. Howard Webb could arguably give a penalty at every Croatian corner, because most of the Italian defenders have a fistful of shirt.
58 min "In the summer of 1991, whilst Gary Lineker was scraping last minute winners for England on their tour of New Zealand, I was wearing an LA Gear hooded t-shirt," says Mike Gibbons. "Even worse, I was old enough to make that choice of my own free will." From all your emails, and particularly from personal experience, it does seem like 1991 was the English year of the Moron?
59 min It's all Croatia at the moment. Italy sitting on a 1-0 lead. Who knew? They did this against Croatia at the World Cup ten years and ended up losing 2-1.
60 min Srna leaps high to win an aerial ball, and in doing so flattens Motta with an arm to the head. No foul was given by England's Howard Webb, although I'd like to see that again – not least because those two have a bit of a backstory. Motta is back on after treatment.
61 min Balotelli picks up the ball in space, 25 yards away, and hammers a wobbling effort just over the bar. That was a fine effort, although I suspect Pletikosa had it covered.
62 min Motta is replaced by Riccardo Montolivo. That might be to stop him getting a second yellow card for a retaliatory challenge on Srna.
63 min This is a nice comparison from Shyam Sandilya. "Pirlo is the Mark Waugh of football isnt he? I remember running home from school in my lunch breaks to watch Mark Waugh bat, even though I generally loathed Australia ... Pirlo similarly was the reason I inexplicably watched Milan matches religiously, even though I had no real stake in them ... What a player!"
65 min I wonder what the great Barry Davies – who once berated Italy for sitting on a 1-0 lead, saying "the Italians are out because they will not learn – makes of this. Italy aren't exactly camped in defence but Croatia are being allowed to play.
67 min Croatia make their first substitution, with Danikel Pranjic replacing the largely anonymous Ivan Perisic.
68 min "Everyone knows the best way to get on the Guardian website is to make a vague, if unconvincing reference to The Wire," says Francis Bond, "so here goes; doesn't Slaven Bilic look a bit like Jimmy McNulty?" The Wire? It's even more boring and pompous than the The Spanish Art Project. The pecking order is this: Sopranos > Breaking Bad > Eldorado > Crossroads > The Wire.
70 min Antonio Di Natale replaces Mario Balotelli, who has played pretty well. Maybe a 7/10.
71 min "Mozzarella is nice, but I prefer Gorgonzola, not least because it served as Gianfranco "Gorgon" Zola's nickname, because he turned defenders to stone with his skills," says Mac Millings. "Peter Beardsley earned the same "Gorgon" nickname for the same reasons, except he did it the original way, with his face."
GOAL! Italy 1-1 Croatia (Mandzukic 72) The Italians will not learn! How many times have they sat on a 1-0 lead and paid the price? This is a really poor goal to concede as well. Strinic, aided by Vukojevic's overlapping run, swerves a long cross towards the far post, where Chiellini hopelessly mistimes his jump. It goes straight over his head, allowing Mandzukic to pull it down deftly, six yards from goal, before ramming it above the sprawling Buffon and in off the post. That was a cool finish because most forwards would have hit that first time
75 min There's a break in play while the smoke from another flare clears.
76 min A swirling long-range strike from Montolivo is beaten away by Pletikosa, who didn't risk trying to catch the ball as it moved both ways in the air.
77 min A draw is still a good result for Italy, by virtue of that draw against the Spanish Art Project. Croatia, in all probability, either need a winner here or a draw against Spain if they are to qualify. (This assumes Ireland lose all their games.)
78 min Maggio, put through on goal on the right of the box, is flagged offside. I think that was the wrong decision, although it was extremely close. He screwed his shot wide, although he knew he was offside by then. I'd like to see that again.
80 min Montilovo is booked by England's Howard Webb for an elbow into the back of Mandzukic.
81 min "The Barry Davies line is a beaut, especially recalling the exasperated schoolmaster tone in which it was delivered, but is it true?" says Gary Naylor. "Italy have won an awful lot matches (and a lot of awful matches) by sitting on one goal leads. Their conservation of energy means that they are generally accepted as improving through a tournament. Can someone statsguru the number of crucial single goal leads Italy have blown? I bet it's not many." There are a few: they went out of tournaments in 1978, 1990, 2000, 2002 and 2004 after losing one-goal leads, three of those in games they had completely under control before they retreated. You can't really blame them for 1978 and 2000.
82 min Mandzukic marauds from the halfway line to the edge of the area. Then he plays it wide to Jelavic, whose attempted low cross is booted clear. That was a chance for Jelavic, who had two men to pick out.
83 min A substitution per side: Eduardo replaces Nikica Jelavic, and Sebastian Giovinco comes on for Antonio Cassano.
84 min A winning goal for Croatia would put them into the semi-finals, and a winner for Italy would leave them needing only a draw against Ireland. I think.
85 min Schildenfeld is booked for a cynical foul on Giovinco, who was in the process of skinning him down the right wing.
86 min "If we win this Euro," says Emanuela Azzarello, "I really hope no one spoils it for us by saying 'we had it all fixed'." Why would people said that about Croatia? That is a Croatian name, right?
86 min Quarter-finals. I meant quarter-finals.
88 min It's in man's nature to postpone the moment of performance for as long as possible, but I don't know that it is wise for Croatia to do that here. If they don't win this, they will probably have to get at least a draw against Spain. A dangerous ball in for Srna is nutted decisively away by Chiellini. Moments later Giovinco is erroneously flagged offside. He was beyond the last man, although still 45 yards from goal. That's the second dodgy offside decision against Italy in the second half.
90 min Buffon calmly claims an awkward deflected cross from Strinic. There will be five minutes of injury time/flare time.
90+2 min Oh, Italy. An Italian player (not sure who) charges towards the area to meet Montolivo's low cross, preparing to strike it with the force of a thousand suns, and it's taken off his feet by a teammate! What an eejit!
90+4 min Mandzukic is penalised for a clumsy foul on Montolivo. He injures himself in the process and will be replaced by Niko Kranjcar. Italy have a free-kick on the left wing, 30 yards from goal. It's a poor one from Pirlo and Croatia clear.
90+6 min Croatia break three on three, but Eduardo takes far too long deciding what to do and his cross is cleared by Maggio. From the resulting throw in, Buffon spills a long-range shot but is able to claim it at the second attempt.
Full time: Italy 1-1 Croatia That was a fair result in an enjoyable game. Croatia fought back excellently in the second half, aided by Italy's excessive caution, and a draw keeps both teams alive going into the final match. Croatia have four points to Italy's two, but I still think Italy are in a slightly better position. Thanks for your emails. I'll leave you with this excellent spot from Adam Pushkin (though I'd still rather be in Italy's position because surely Spain will beat Croatia).
Surely 1-1 is a terrible result for Italy? If Spain beat Ireland later, then Spain and Croatia will both know that a 2-2 draw in their last game will send Italy home on goals scored – and nothing Italy do against Ireland can save them. That's exactly what happened in 2004 – to Italy. Rather funny, if my memory serves me well.