Group C is one of the more interesting to watch out for this summer, as it combines established international favourites with dark horses and a potential surprise package. Sam Parker previews how the teams will fare and puts his swingers on the line with some predictions in a group that will be tough to call.
I’ve covered Spain in more depth here, so I’ll try and keep this brief. They are not the force that they were four/two years ago, with various parts of the squad suffering key injuries, while others have seen Grandfather Time pay a visit.
Their qualification campaign was flawless which made them favourites in the eyes of the bookies to reclaim their crown, but with Carles Puyol and David Villa missing, they are without two key players.
Instead, the players to watch are Gerard Pique, to see how he copes as the leader in the centre of defence, as opposed to Puyol’s sidekick, while it will be interesting to see how the likes of Santi Cazorla and Fernando Llorente do in more prominent roles.
Key Player: Andres Iniesta is pivotal to any success Spain may have. The midfielder is one of the greatest creative players in the game and will pop up with important goals, as proved in 2010 when he hit the winner in the World Cup Final.
They come into this tournament with what looks like, on paper at least, one of the worst teams they have had in years. The squad contains few players having high levels of experience at the top level of club football, with those that do possibly looking at their last major international tournament.
In addition to this, another match-fixing scandal has hit Italy, with first-choice left-back Domenico Criscito forced out after his arrest in the investigation while Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci’s is included in the squad despite the likelihood he will be questioned as part of the probe.
Furthermore, there is a lack of natural goalscorers in the squad, with Antonio Cassano having missed most of the season with a heart problem and being unpredictable at the best of times, while the latter description can also apply to Mario Balotelli.
Saying all this, Italy dropped a mere four points qualification and it must be said that the same problems existed in 2006, with Italy defying the odds to win their fourth World Cup. Never one to write off, despite all the obvious problems surrounding their build up.
Prediction: Group stage exit.
Key Player: Giorgio Chiellini will be the man Italy look to, if they are to repeat 2006 heroics. That was built on a sturdy defence, with Fabio Cannavaro key to the success and Chiellini will need to be at his best to help Italy achieve anything.
Always come in to tournaments as ‘dark horses’ due to the ability in their squad and this tournament will be no different. Packed with quality, they could be a match for anybody on their day.
They have players playing all over Europe, with a blend of English tenacity, German grit and a host of players plying their trade in Ukraine, they will be at home in the conditions the tournament will provide in Poland.
They have been dealt a blow in losing striker Ivica Olic and defender Dejan Lovren through injuries, but you would have to feel they are strong enough to get through the group stages, as their head-to-head with Italy could prove decisive.
The likes of Luka Modric and Dortmund’s Ivan Perisic in midfield will prove key to their chances, while they will also hope Nikica Jelavic can carry his Everton form into this competition.
Key Player: Luka Modric’s price could double if he displays his club form in a big international tournament. Now is the time to prove to the world he can mix it with the best and earn the big move he’s been angling for.
Getting to the finals of a major tournament represents success for the Republic of Ireland, especially after the injustice of the France play-off defeat in the last World Cup. However, it looks an uphill battle to get out of the group.
A squad made of Premier League middle-grounders that would dream of Europa League football will struggle to better teams that have established international pedigree. Their best chance is a pragmatic defence-first policy, looking to use their strengths on the counter or with set-pieces where they have advantages over the generally smaller players that make up their opposition.
The likes of James McClean will be interesting to watch, in order to gauge his potential, while Damien Duff and Robbie Keane will need to roll back the years in order to mix it with the elites of the game again.
One thing that could work in Ireland’s favour is their away form. Since 2007, they have only lost one game outside of the Emerald Isle, with Brazil the only team to come away victorious in London. They know how to play away from home against the big boys and could put some scraps together to claim precious points.
Prediction: Propping up the group.
Key Player: Shay Given is in for a busy summer and will need to be at his best if Ireland are to come out of this tournament with pride intact. The defence is not as solid it as was two years ago and he will need to be on top form if Ireland are to upset the odds and progress.
It looks to be a tricky group to call, but I would expect Spain to come out on top, with Croatia’s meeting with Italy in the second game crucial for second spot. Ireland will make a decent fight of it, but their progress into further rounds would be a big surprise.
I predict Croatia will join Spain as qualifiers, as Italy’s squad just doesn’t look a together unit, nothing like their victorious team in 2006 that overcame adversity. Croatia in contrast have a manager to play for, with Slaven Bilic bowing after the tournament.
I don’t feel this group will produce the winner of the tournament, with Spain predicted to fail on one of the final two hurdles, while second place will face a tricky test with France in the quarters. It’ll be an enjoyable group stage however, as anything could still happen.
Sunday 10 June
Spain v Italy 17.00
Ireland v Croatia 19.45
Thursday 14 June
Italy v Croatia 17.00
Spain v Ireland 19.45
Monday 18 June
Croatia v Spain 19.45
Italy v Ireland 19.45
Tags: Andres Iniesta, Croatia, Euro 2012, Group C, Ireland, Italy, Luka Modric, Mario Balotelli, Shay Give, Shay Given, Spain