Group C may not be as dramatic as the first two groups, with one side already eliminated, but there are still three sides still competing for the two qualification spots, so there is still plenty to be decided in the final round of group matches.
SPAIN V CROATIA
After a slow start against Italy which saw them struggle to unpick their opposition’s defence, Spain sprung to life against Ireland with a dominant display that confirmed their tags as favourites for the title this summer.
Issues with the selection in the opening game appear to have been resolved, as a reliable striker seems to have been found in the form of Fernando Torres. It has become something of a popular thing to do, to denigrate the Chelsea forward’s abilities, but he answered his critics with a brace against the Irish and give Vicente Del Bosque someone to use as the focal point of his attack.
That 4-0 thrashing of Ireland has put Spain in pole position to top the group, leading Croatia on goal difference. So they need nothing else other than a draw against their competitors, but you can guarantee that this team of born winners will be playing for nothing less than victory.
Italians have talked about a conspiracy in which the two sides accept a 2-2 draw, thus ensuring both teams qualify regardless of how Italy fare against Ireland, but it would be unlikely Spain would lower themselves to that level and will want to ensure their position as group winners and assert authority over a team of a decent standard.
Croatia salvaged a decent draw against a good Italy side in their second group game and look impressive going forward. With options like Luka Modric creating chances and Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic in fine goal scoring form, they have no issues getting goals and could take advantage of a Spanish defence that hasn’t looked completely assured against a decent attack.
But defensively, they didn’t look comfortable even against Ireland’s limited forward line and if the Spanish are in the mood for it, they could rip them asunder.
The orders will be simple for Croatia; go out and get the best result you can. A draw leaves them in a good position to qualify, with Italy requiring to win by a comfortable margin against Ireland in order to overthrow them. A win however puts them top of the group and runs the risk of eliminating holders Spain at the group stage.
IRELAND V ITALY
Ireland have merely pride to play for in this final game, having so far recorded no points and conceded seven goals in their opening two fixtures.
While they have had recent success against Italy, they would not be the opposition they would pick in order to restore that pride, with an angry Roy Keane having drawn out a few players into a war of words already.
Shay Given looks set to play his final game in international football, having announced his intention to retire following a torrid tournament. He will potentially be followed by a number of other stars, with Damien Duff and Robbie Keane the wrong side of 30 already.
Italy on the other hand have one directive and that is to win and win well. They can’t chance their arm at eeking out a one goal victory if Croatia can claim a draw against Spain, as that will still see them eliminated at the group stage for the second major tournament running.
They need to win big and will have only been encouraged by the way Spain were able to slice through the Ireland defence at will on Thursday. Mario Balotelli isn’t doing much good in the face of racist nonsense that has blighted the tournament, so perhaps Antonio Di Natale is deserving of a starting place, given his excellent season for Udinese and opening game strike against Spain.
There are plenty of goals in this side if they realise their superiority over their opposition, though they must be careful not to be caught on the counter by an Ireland side that will keep bodies back and may experiment with some alternative attacking options.
It looks to be a long and painful final match for Ireland, as pride may be difficult to find against a team that needs a big win to ensure their continuation in these European Championships.
Tags: Croatia, Euro 2012, Group C, Ireland, Italy, Spain