5 Min Read
* 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 (Reuters) - 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.
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)