Motta: Spain and Croatia won’t conspire against us

ITALY 1
CROATIA 1

ITALY midfielder Thiago Motta insists he cannot see Spain and Croatia agreeing to draw their final group game, even though their draw with Croatia leaves them vulnerable to elimination from the European Championship.

Andrea Pirlo’s masterful free-kick gave Italy the lead six minutes before half-time but though they remained the stronger side for much of the match, Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic scored the only goal of the second-half to leave both sides’ futures finely balanced.

The result puts Italy in third place in Group C with two points, while Croatia are joint-top with Spain with four. Should they and Croatia draw 2-2 on Monday, Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign will be over but Motta is unconcerned about their group rivals preparing to do so.

“It’s true we wasted a great chance today, as we put Croatia under pressure and didn’t finish off the match,” said Motta, who was born in Brazil. “At the end of the day a draw is fair and we have to focus on the next match.

“I’m sure Spain will try to beat Croatia whatever happens. We are professionals and I doubt there would be an agreement at the Euros.”

Italy began with the same side selected to start against Spain, despite the goalscoring contribution of substitute striker Antonio di Natale, and enjoyed near-total control of a first-half in which Pirlo’s influence showed the classy midfielder to be at his outstanding best, even before his goal.

The Azzuri had regularly threatened on the break, though they failed to score before Pirlo’s stunning strike, the cultured veteran curling a right-footed effort over the Croatian wall and beyond goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Italy’s dominance remained consistent until the game’s final half hour but they thereafter began to tire, and when Ivan Strinic crossed towards Mandzukic, the striker controlled the ball and powerfully shot in via the post to earn a point that few had predicted.