by Jared Grellet
|Daniel Donzelli was a hand-full for Croatia's defense as he recorded a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds|
Italy have claimed a morale boosting victory to begin the U16 European Championship Men, defeating defending champions, Croatia, 77-63.
Croatia suffered a major setback early on when starting forward and second-time campaigner Leon Tomic was taken to hospital after less than four minutes with a bleeding tongue.
With one of the key components from their team absent, the task of overcoming Italy became somewhat more difficult as Antonio Bocchino's troops fought back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game at 34 at the half.
Going point-for-point through the third quarter, Italy took a one-point lead into the final quarter thanks to a buzzer-beating three from Martino Mastellari.
Despite returning from hospital for the final quarter, Tomic was unable to provide the touch his team required with Croatia guilty of missing too many open shots in the lane down the stretch.
Pierfrancesco Oliva starred for Italy, scoring 27 points and adding 13 rebounds. Daniel Donzelli contributed 17 points.
Marko Arapovic lead scoring for Croatia, ending the night with 22 points.
Tomorrow Croatia will look to resurrect their campaign when they take on Turkey, whilst Italy have the chance to confirm their place in the next round should they defeat England.