Welcome to Four Five Two’s third-world class coverage of Euro 2012. We are taking an in-depth look at the 16 teams who kick off play Friday afternoon. If we feel ambitious we may even have some other articles up. As always we will also provide predictions so you can make fun of us for being completely wrong. We continue our previews with Group C, or Italy’s group.At first glance Group C looks pretty straightforward.
Spain, the reigning World and European Champions and perennial powers Italy are certainly favorites to progress past the likes of Croatia and Ireland.
But there are bound to be some surprises in this tournament and this might be just the group in which a big one could occur.
It’s the kind of group where you get no credit for calling it by the odds, but will still be completely lambasted for doing so if a shock does occur.
Nevertheless, the less fashionable sides in this group do indeed have a chance to go through, and any fan of either Spain or Italy would be wise not to start making plans for the quarterfinals just yet.
A quick look at all four sides and my predictions, after the jump!
The defending champions and current World Cup holders are always going to be a popular pick in a big tournament like this, but the truth is teams rarely win these kinds of things twice in a row. It has never been done in the history of the European Championship.
Still, with the skill that Spain possess they are more than capable of making that kind of history.
Over half of the squad is made up of players from Real Madrid or Barcelona. Their backline is solid but prone to lapses which are left to captain and longtime keeper Iker Casillas to clean up.
Their real strength lies in midfield with wizards like Juan Mata, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, and David Silva ply their trade. Just typing that list gave me goosebumps.
And with a midfield like that who needs attackers? Coach Vicente del Bosque has only included 4 of them in the squad, and one of them is Fernando Torres.
With David Villa out Spain could be missing some bite up at the top to convert the creativity of the midfield into goals. Negredo, Llorente, and young Pedro are all viable options and proven scorers but there’s not much room for a slow start here. If they struggle to hit the net early in games they could make it very difficult for themselves.
Italy are a real wildcard in this tournament. The team enters yet another international competition in the midst of domestic scandal and from what I’ve been reading and hearing, not a whole lot is expected of them.
And yet few will honestly admit to being truly surprised if they make the semifinal.
That’s the sort of enigmatic presence the Azzurri have been in international competitions for decades and true to form they enter this Euro with real talent and some real question marks.Perhaps no Italy player embodies this character better than Mario Balotelli. The young Manchester City striker has massive loads of talent and if he stays focus and produces he could be just the killer instinct Italy have needed even since before the 2006 World Cup.
But Balotelli has also already threatened, or rather promised, to misbehave if confronted with racism and despite being fully backed by manager Cesare Prandelli, if he fails to feel loved he is as petulant as they come.
Italy have a strong core running up the middle of the pitch with Juve trio Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, and Pirlo but have concerns around the edges.
With expected left-back Domenico Criscito out due to involvement in the current betting affair, responsibilities on the flanks will fall to smaller names and the midfield is stocked with player like Montolivo and Marchisio who have yet to bloom for the Azzurri and the untested likes of Diamanti and Nocerino.
Prandelli has gone for an offensive approach and while it has produced solid results it hasn’t really produced all that many goals. Whether or not Balotelli and company finish the job up top will go a long way towards building a deep run on top of an already sturdy foundation.
While the FIFA rankings are about as credible as a coached witness, it will still be surprising for some to note that Croatia are actually ranked above their Italian counterparts in Group C.
Coach Slaven Bilic’s side enjoyed a solid if disappointing qualifying campaign, coming second in their group to Greece before sliding comfortably past Turkey in their playoff.Croatia also progressed to the quarterfinals in Spain in Austria-Switzerland and host a fair amount of EPL and Bundesliga talent, some if which has certainly matured since the last go-around.
The most well-known names are of course Tottenham’s midfield pair Modric and Kranjcar who will be pulling the strings in the middle and posing a serious threat from dead-ball situations.
Everton’s Jelavic made quite a splash on his arrival in England and will be looking to pad his account for his country, having scored just twice in 19 appearances thus far.
The Toffees man may not even crack the starting lineup however with Eduardo (surely the tournament’s only Brazilian and the team’s leader in international goals) and the aerial formidability of Wolfsburg’s Mario Mandzukic leading the line.
I don’t think Croatia are a real threat to win the tournament, but they do have the talent to bring one of the group’s giants down if they catch them slumbering.
Republic of Ireland
Ireland always makes it out of the group when they qualify for the World Cup, and while they have only made the Euros one other time in their history (1988) it almost feels as if they are owed something on the international stage after the highway robbery that kept them out of WC 2010 in South Africa.
Wily, Italian veteran manager Giovanni Trapattoni has the squad playing well and more organized than a typically scrappy side and they eased past Estonia in a qualifying playoff after navigating to second in their group behind Russia.
They have plenty of names EPL fans will have heard of while watching their favorite clubs beat up on Wolves, Sunderland, and Aston Villa. But their star man now hails from his boyhood club all the way in Los Angeles.
Yes, Robbie Keane still holds the fortunes of the men in green firmly in his hands with Kevin Doyle’s 10 international goals the closest to approaching the Ireland captain’s 53.
Ireland have a bit of speed in the attack but their discipline in their own half will be the real difference maker. If they can stay compact in the back and use their strengths on the counter-attack effectively I firmly believe a bunch as spirited as the Irish normally are can beat any other squad in this group on a given day.
I know, I know.
I made you read all those words only to go the safe (and rational) route at the end.
Italy and Spain should progress out of this group. And if I have my way it will be in that order.
Their opening game against each other could send one into a tailspin though, and both Croatia and Ireland are capable of pouncing on either of these sides should they become wounded.
I’d like to think that scenario is more likely to happen to a cocky Spain side resting on its laurels, but the often maddening, frustrating Italy actually seems more vulnerable.
Fingers crossed. Forza Azzurri!