Both the Azzurri and Croatia came into this game unchanged and in full confidence after their recent performances against Spain and the Republic of Ireland. Italy’s first half performance was comfortable – with the midfield trio of Pirlo, Marchisio and Thiago Motta running the show and the front line of Balotelli – Cassano were provided with constant ammunition.
It was Andrea Pirlo who broke the deadlock with a trademark placed free kick from 25 yards out. Incredibly, Pirlo became the first player to score directly from a free kick in the EURO’s since Czech Republic’s Marek Heinz scored against Germany in EURO 2004.
Slaven Bilic, who has agreed to manage Lokomotiv Moscow after the tournament, told Aleksander Holiga of The Guardian that he firmly believed his Croatia side have what it takes to win the tournament:
“Croatia can win it. When we take off, it’s an explosion”
And in the second half Croatia showed just why they are arguably one of the most complete sides tactically in the tournament. Both Strinic and Perisic (the left flank) had been pinned back by forward thinking wing back Christian Maggio in the first half which by and large contributed to Croatia’s lack of goal threat in the first half. This can be visually noticed by analysing the tackling zones, where Croatia were forced into their left back spot – making far more tackles in this zone compared to the second half.
Croatia heavily rely on their wing backs pushing on forward and aiding the wide midfielders to put crosses into the box: Srnic averaged 14 crosses per game in qualification (5 more than any other player during qualification) and ensemble, Croatia often put in over 30 crosses per game. However, Croatia only managed one successful cross in the first half (from a right-sided corner) and only four in total from the left hand side. The half time interval brought about a change in emphasis from the right flank as an attacking outlet to the left.
While Strinic was an unused attacking outlet against the Republic of Ireland (only 2 attempted crosses out of the team’s 30), the half time team walk by Bilic clearly included a strategy to both prevent Maggio’s threat and to cross more from the left flank (Perisic and Strinic): Strinic attempted 10 crosses (37% of all Croatia’s crosses) against Italy. It was a stroke of genius from Bilic as it was Strinic’s cross from deep that produced the Mandzukic goal and leaving the Croatian fans bouncing behind the italian’s goal for the rest of the game.
Italy fail to beat Croatia again
‘Croatia’. Why can’t the Azzurri beat Croatia? All four competitive matches against the croats since 1996 have ended in either defeat or a draw for the italians. Italy have now failed to win in six successive World and European Cup finals games, their longest non-winning streak at major tournaments.
Italy have now left themselves in a position of a must win game against Trappatoni’s Republic of Ireland – who themselves have been particularly poor against Spain and Croatia so far. However, to progress into the quarter finals not only do results need to go Italy’s way elsewhere, the Republic of Ireland are now in the dangerous position of playing without pressure and with an incredibly supportive 12th man behind them despite their failure to win a single game so far:
“How many times over the years have Ireland had big results against the odds? Think of USA 1994 when they beat Italy at Giants Stadium. I wouldn’t rule out something special happening this evening, because Ireland are capable of doing that.” (Kevin Kilbane, BBC Radio 5)
Why Croatia were 39.8% ‘luckier’ than Italy – PDO*
*using goal scoring opportunities only
As used briefly in my first match report for the Azzurri – PDO is aimed to “separate the two entities that determine who wins a football match: luck and skill” (@11tegen11) and is widely used in both basketball and ice hockey.
However, the first attempt at using PDO as an analysis tool in football for the Azzurri-Spain clash brought up a number of criticisms for its use in football. The PDO typically uses either shots on target or shots off target in its formula to attain the outcome:
[Shooting Percentage (sh%) + Saving Percentage (sv%)] x 10 = PDO (always a combined value of 2000)
While PDO works in Ice Hockey and Basketball and has revolutionised their analysis – there are considerable differences in these sports to football. Every shot taken is often a true opportunity as shooting is considered a linear outcome process. In football though, the amount of shots is complex and is not directly related to whether a team should win or not.
Using shots off target has its advantage as it tells more of a story, it reveals more about how much of attacking force one side were in comparison to another. However, more often than not a shot off target in one from a half chance and would not therefore determine how lucky a team were not to score.
There are also problems with using shots on target in this formula – football tactics are diverse, both attacking and defensive – just because one team has had more shots does not necessarily tell us of whether the quality of shots were ever going to truly have an opportunity of being a goal. Therefore instead of using either of these statistics in this adapted version of PDO, ‘real goal scoring opportunities’ are used in its replacement. By using goal scoring opportunities as the measure, you include all the true qualities of the chances of scoring and therefore winning (providing you score more than the opponent).
Luck in this case is defined in football terms as: a team who has less real goal scoring opportunities yet scores more goals. A ‘real goal scoring opportunity’ is a decision made at root decision – a chance that had the possibility of going in – therefore shots from tight angles that are straight at goal keepers are ignored, shots from distance that do not trouble the keeper or hit the corner flag per se are too ignored.
Goal scoring opportunities may include shots off target, shots on target or in a few circumstances no shot at all (Balotelli v Spain) – which was an OBVIOUS goal scoring opportunity, yet no shot was attempted. The key word here is OBVIOUS – the same terminology used in the rule book to sending a player off.
Italy PDO* 6 gso, 1 goal. 3 gso, 2 saves.
PDO* ITA = 10 (16.7 + 66.7) = 834*
Croatia PDO* 3 gso, 1 goal. 6 gso, 5 saves.
PDO*CRO = 10 (33.3 + 83.3) = 1166*
— Note all Goal Scoring Opportunities have been listed at the end of this article. —
Therefore from this analysis it can be derived that the Croatians were 39.8% ‘luckier’ (more efficient) than the Italians in winning their game. Croatia had 16.6% more luck than the norm (of 1000 PDO). Italy had 19.9% less luck than the norm.
Limitations to this analysis still lie within the tactical approaches of football. As noted throughout the match report, Croatia relied heavily on crossing the ball and not feeding the ball through to their strikers. This will result in fewer opportunities actually being created as crossing rates are typically at best around 30% (see premier league winger statistics). However, this approach is a dangerous one and is consistent on a game basis for the main source of goals – see number of goals scored from headers at EURO 2012 – Jelavic and Mandzukic are also big targets and Croatia have by and large got their tactics spot on.
the counted ‘real goal scoring opportunities’:
1 Italy – Balotelli, 2nd minute
2 Italy – Balotelli, 10th minute
3 Italy – Balotelli, 15th minute
4 Italy – Marchisio, 36th minute
5 Italy – Pirlo, 39th minute and GOAL
6 Italy – Montolivo, 76th minute
1 Croatia – Jelavic, 19th minute
2 Croatia – Modric, 46th minute
3 Croatia – Mario Mandzukic, 72nd minute and GOAL