Mandzukic gives Croatia draw against Italy

Croatia has still never lost to Italy.

Mario Mandzukic had his third goal in Euro 2012 in the 72nd minute and Croatia tied Italy, 1-1, on Thursday at Municipal Stadium to remain undefeated in six all-time meetings with the four-time World Cup champions.

Andrea Pirlo scored off a brilliant free kick in the first half for Italy, but the 1968 Euro champions have three draws and three losses all-time against the Croatians.

Italy has just two points from its first two matches, it tied Spain 1-1 in its first game, and will play Ireland on Monday in its last Group C match. Croatia beat Ireland, 3-1, in its first game and ends group play Monday against Spain.

"After two matches this is a really good situation," said Croatia coach Slaven Bilic. "I am really optimistic about the next game and the whole tournament."

The Italians enjoyed a better first half and put the Croatians under much more pressure from the start.

Mario Balotelli fired just wide of the left post inside 3 minutes, Claudio Marchisio drove a 22-yard shot just over the bar in the 11th, and Balotelli forced a save in the 16th as Italy had early chances to score.

Although the match was evenly played, the Italians did not allow the Croatians to finish off attacks, and continued to keep goalkeeper Stipe Pletkiosa on his toes in the Croatia net.

Antonio Cassano fired wide left in the 33rd as the Italians came close again, and Marchisio was frustrated by Pletkiosa when he was denied on two successive chances deep in the area.

Italy's breakthrough came in the 39th after Balotelli won a free kick just out of the area. Pirlo delivered a perfect free kick just over a four-man wall and into the bottom-left corner past a diving Pletkiosa for his 10th career goal.

Pirlo nearly set up a second goal four minutes later when his corner kick was headed just high at the near post by Cassano.

Although Croatia had its moments, it did not test Italy goalkeeper Gigi Buffon until first-half injury time when Mandzukic, who scored twice against Ireland, ended a quick counter with a hard shot to the right post.

Croatia was a different team once the second half kicked off, with Luka Modric forcing a save from Buffon in the 47th and then lifting a shot just over the bar in the 49th.

Balotelli had one of the rare second-half chances for Italy in the 61st, but Croatia was back in control quickly and the tying goal followed.

Ivan Strinic set up the goal with a cross from the left wing and, with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini out of position, Mandzukic settled the ball at the far post and sneaked a shot past Buffon off the inside of the right post.

"When you're on top in a game and have territorial supremacy, you need to kill the game off, because if you don't," Italy manager Cesare Prandelli said, "all that it takes is a cross or a deflection and it can ruin all you have done."

Riccardo Montolivo stung Pletkiosa's hands with a long shot minutes later, and the Italians wasted a corner in the 84th, as they left their tournament to be decided against the Irish.

Croatia had the final chance of the game deep in 5 minutes of stoppage time as Buffon had a little trouble with a Niko Kranjcar shot, but the draw was enough to keep it atop the group with a battle against Spain up next.