* Italy and Croatia draw, Torres in for Spain against Irish
* Polish minister wants tougher sentences for hooligans
* Russia to appeal against threat of docked points
(Releads after Italy v Croatia)
By Timothy Heritage
KIEV, June 14 Mario Mandzukic scored his third
goal of Euro 2012 on Thursday to earn Croatia a 1-1 draw against
Italy that put his team in the driving seat in Group C and left
the Italians without a win.
Mandzukic thumped the ball in from close range in the 72nd
minute after Andrea Pirlo became the first player to score
directly from a free kick at the European Championship since
2004 when he curled the ball in from 25 metres after 39 minutes.
The stalemate in Poznan left Croatia on four points after
their 3-1 demolition of Ireland in the opening match, and Italy
on two points after they drew 1-1 with Spain.
The champions, who have one point, showed their intention to
improve on a toothless performance against Italy by bringing in
Fernando Torres for Cesc Fabregas to face Ireland, abandoning
their policy of playing without a recognised centre forward.
Off the pitch, Poland's sports minister expressed
disappointment with the first six court judgements against
hooligans who attacked Russian fans before Poland played Russia
in Warsaw on Tuesday.
The toughest of the initial six sentences over violence in
which 184 people were detained was a five-month jail term.
"We cannot influence the justice system. But in my opinion
the punishment should be more severe," Sports Minister Joanna
Mucha said. "It's important to create an atmosphere where
there's no permission for these kinds of situations."
Relations between Russia and Poland have long been difficult
and President Vladimir Putin told Polish Prime Minister Donald
Tusk on Wednesday that Warsaw bore full responsibility for the
safety of fans.
Poland, co-hosting the tournament with Ukraine, expects
20,000 Russian fans to arrive in Warsaw with tickets for their
team's final Group A match against Greece on Saturday, twice the
number that came to the game with Poland.
Italy were left to rue several missed chances after
playmaker Pirlo's clinical strike over the wall was their only
reward for first-half domination.
Croatia came back strongly after the interval and drew level
when Giorgio Chiellini misjudged an Ivan Strinic cross,
Mandzukic brought it down in the penalty box and smashed it in
to add to the two headers he scored against Ireland.
Croatia, however, could be in trouble after their fans threw
flares onto the field, at one point leaving a pall of smoke
hanging over the penalty area.
Balotelli shot wide after three minutes and should have done
better when Antonio Cassano found him free on the edge of the
area, but he dallied and his shot was saved by Stipe Pletikosa.
He had another effort saved by the keeper and midfielder
Claudio Marchisio forced Pletikosa into a superb double save
when he dived at his feet to block one shot and did the same
from the rebound.
Cassano also went close when he shot across the goal from
Leonardo Bonucci's flicked pass. But it was a different story in
the second half, when Italy tired and were grateful to hang on
for a point.
RUSSIA TO APPEAL
Tuesday's clashes in Warsaw followed disturbances at
Russia's opening game against the Czech Republic last Friday
where Russian fans set off and threw fireworks and displayed
illicit banners at a match they won 4-1 in Wroclaw.
Russia's soccer federation said it would appeal against a
decision by UEFA, European soccer's governing body, to dock the
team six points in qualifying for the next European Championship
if their fans misbehave again.
"The federation will do all it can to ensure the national
team avoids such a severe punishment," the Russian federation
said in a statement.
UEFA also fined the German and Portuguese football
associations over incidents during a Group B match on Saturday.
The German federation was fined 10,000 euros ($12,600) after
Germany fans threw what appeared to be rolled up pieces of paper
at Portugal players on several occasions during the first half.
The Portuguese association was fined 5,000 euros for
delaying the kickoff of the second half in Lviv.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)