EURO 2012 LIVE: Italy vs. Croatia

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1810: Italy is on top and Claudio Marchisio’s shot from around 25 yards and is inches away from nestling in the top corner. Balotelli then smashes a fierce shot straight at goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa from the edge of the area.

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1806: The enigmatic Mario Balotelli was at the center of things against Spain and he makes his presence felt here early on by controling a cross from the left, turning and shooting just wide with his left foot. That was close. Much of the pre-match talk was about the head-to-head between midfield playmakers Andrea Pirlo of Italy and Luka Modric of Croatia. Pirlo has settled well already.

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1800: Referee is England’s Howard Webb, who was in charge of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Italy kicks off.

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1755: Italy is staying with its makeshift defense that coped very well against Spain. That sees midfielder Daniele De Rossi stay at center back after a very impressive performance in that match _ he plays despite having a cast on his right arm. Teams are out for the national anthems.

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1748: Here’s a tweet from former United States defender Alexi Lalas. (at)AlexiLalas: Ran into a squirrel on my morning run. Argued with him about who Prandelli should start up top. Squirrels love Balotelli.

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1740: Having already beaten Ireland 3-1, Croatia will become the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals if it beats Italy. The Croatians have never lost to their opponents today so the omens are good, although Italy looked handy in the 1-1 draw with Spain on Sunday.

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1732: Here are the lineups for Italy vs. Croatia. Both teams are unchanged from their first games:

Italy: Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci, Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Maggio, Cassano, Balotelli. Substitutes: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Di Natale, Barzagli, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic, Jelavic. Substitutes: Kelava, Subasic, Simunic, Buljat, Pranjic, Badelj, Versaljko, Dujmovic, Kalinic, Kranjcar, Vida, Eduardo.

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