Group B, the ‘Group of death’, might have had its curtains drawn but watch closely and you will notice that Group C weaves quite an interesting story on its own. It might have seemed fair to watch Italy and Spain share the spoils in the opening group encounters but on the other side, Croatia, with their splendid, convincing victory over Republic of Ireland have sent out a sound message to the rest of the contenders. Not only are they full of talented individuals, they have arrived at this tournament with true grit, determination and honest preparation. It is always going to be hard to discount such a team even when you have the likes of Italy and Spain in the same group.
Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poznan
June 14, 2012
Although they are lined up against the favourites for this tournament – Spain, Italy came through with a fearless and high-spirited display against La Roja in their opening fixture. It is a good thing that Cesare Prandelli’s side played Spain first up but on the flip side, with the match ending in a stalemate; it means that the Azzurri cannot afford to think of anything but a victory when they face Croatia on Thursday.
Having been beaten by the Croats on three previous occasions in major tournaments, it is not exactly a walk-in-the-park coming up against Slaven Bilic’s side at a point where you absolutely need a victory to keep you afloat in the tournament. Italy performed well against Spain but by fielding a three-man defense and not entirely committing to restricting Del Bosque’s side, Italy did show their weaknesses in some ways.
The coach has declared that he might not be making many changes for their game against Croatia since he wants to bring a degree of consistency within his squad. However, if the situation calls for it, he will have to give the likes of Di Natale and Giovinco starting berths ahead of the Balotelli’s and Cassano’s.
Against Croatia, Prandelli needs to choose his squad after much introspection for two reasons – his starting XI should be able to face a physically superior Croatian side and secondly, his side needs to dominate from the start and ensure that the chances created are converted into goals. After all, the result is what will matter at the end of the day.
Croatia know they have the upper hand against Italy going into this game. Bilic claimed that his side put up their best performance in the game against Republic of Ireland three days ago in Poznan. Indeed, it was a match that showcased Croatia’s preparation to a good extent.
They have the capability to surprise, overtake and upset any team they are up against and with an already good record against Italy in the recent past, Bilic will only hope his side leverages this fact as an ingredient of confidence.
No doubt Luka Modric is the dictator for the Croats on the pitch. However, after their first encounter, Ivan Rakitic and Nikica Jelavic have also emerged as threats to the opposition. Not to forget, Mario Mandžukić, with his two-goal brace, showed that he can slot those through balls in when required. Captain Darijo Srna has once again answered the call of duty by stepping up to line up in the back-four.
With an overall balance from defense to attack, Croatia seem to be well prepared to emerge victorious from Group C. Slaven Bilic will surely want to take three points against the Italians rather than against Spain. And if it does turn out this way, then Group C could see an upset on the cards.
Key Players – Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Luka Modric (Croatia)
Prediction – Italy 2 – 2 Croatia
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Arena Gdansk, Gdansk
June 14, 2012
The picture doesn’t look too different in the Spain camp from how it presents itself for the Italians. Vicente del Bosque’s side are in must-win situation and on paper, it looks like they are in a much more comfortable position than Italy for their next fixture. A win will bring them level on points against Croatia but anything less than three points means giving away the hat-trick of winning three major international tournaments on the trot and facing a possible exit.
Spain started the game against Italy with a bold move of precluding a striker upfront, instead sending Cesc Fabregas to head the attack. To a large part, it didn’t pay off considering Italy weren’t shy of attacking themselves albeit this is not a tactic Del Bosque would want to go with, two games in a row.
The presence of Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente and even the out-of-form Fernando Torres in the squad are three good reasons why Del Bosque needs to ponder how his side is going to shape against the Irish on Thursday. Creativity in midfield is not a problem for Spain at all but the key task for Del Bosque will be to pick the right striker/s who can do justice to what the midfield manufactures.
Giovanni Trapattoni admitted his side’s mediocre performance against Croatia; which means, he is aware, better than anyone else, that his side is capable of playing much better. The presence of veteran players across the zones on the pitch gives the Republic of Ireland that stability amidst the game created by the young blood.
The Irish are capable of upsetting Spain, especially considering Del Bosque’s side lack the psychological edge but are still carrying the pressure of being ‘favourites’. Going by how the group is poised, Republic of Ireland have nothing to lose and so expect a free-flowing, attacking game from both sides.
Key Players – Iniesta (Spain), Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland)
Prediction – Spain 2 – 0 Republic of Ireland