Home > Football > Euro 2012 Preview: Group C

Euro 2012 Preview: Group C

Group C is an intriguing group containing defending champions and pre-tournament favourites Spain, a crisis stricken Italy, a talented Croatia side and an Ireland team unbeaten in 14 games. It may look like a straight forward group for two of Europe’s giants, but nothing in football is easy and this may just be the group that accounts for the tournament’s early big name casualty.

Croatia

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Captain: Darijo Srna

Star Player: Luka Modric

The Croatian side contains a lot of very talented players but they needed to come through the playoffs to qualify after finishing second to Greece in qualifying group F. Losses away to Greece and Georgia, as well as a draw with Greece in Zagreb, do not exactly paint a picture of a side that will be challenging for the title of European Champions in the coming weeks. They did however, defeat a very useful Turkish side in the playoffs and their form in recent friendlies has been reasonable.

In Luka Modric, they have a midfielder capable of dictating games and of creating something out of nothing, a great attribute in major tournament football. The 26 year old has played on this stage before and has shown that he can perform consistently in the Premier League. He will be the man through whom everything goes in midfield so he will need to be at his skilful best if Croatia are to progress.

 

Luka Modric will look to orchestrate proceedings for Croatia (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Modric does not score a great deal of goals and so Bilic will be looking to the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic to find the back of the net. Jelavic was a revelation in the Premier League after joining Everton in the January transfer window, showing an unerring ability to finish any chance that came his way. Croatia will be hoping he continues in this vein, especially as long-time go-to man Ivica Olic will now miss the tournament with a thigh injury. The likes of Niko Kranjcar, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic are more than capable midfielders and experienced players like Stipe Pletikosa, Josip Simunic and Vedran Corluka form part of a solid back five.

The Croats undoubtedly have enough quality to progress and with Italy looking like they would rather be anywhere but in Poland and Ukraine, they may just do so.

Sport Report Verdict: Group runner-up

Italy

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Captain: Gianluigi Buffon

Star Player: Mario Balotelli

Where to start with the Azzurri? They could turn up and win it. They could turn up and not win a single match. This is what makes them such an intriguing team this time around.

Cesare Prandelli’s men romped to qualification, winning eight and drawing two of their ten matches. A watertight defence conceded only two goals and 20 scored was a very respectable return. However, it is difficult to know exactly what this means as the competition was not up to much. Serbia were desperately disappointing and Faroe Islands, Slovenia, Northern Ireland and Estonia are not, with all due respect, what you would class as top teams. Still, the Italians did what they had to and are in this summer’s competition on merit.

Their preparations have however been overshadowed by yet another match-fixing scandal which has seen Prandelli forced to omit Zenit St Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito. Police raided the team’s Coverciano training base last week, forcing the cancellation of an arranged friendly with Luxembourg. This means that they have played only one friendly in preparation for the tournament, one in which they were comprehensively beaten by Russia. All in all Prandelli has a job on his hands getting his players to focus on the task at hand because quite frankly, some of his players look like they have other things on their minds.

 

As captain, Gianluigi Buffon will need to call on all his experience to bring together a troubled Italy team. (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Injuries also look to be an issue. Andrea Barzagli is struggling with a calf injury, whilst enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli is also carrying a knock. There is however, quality in this side. Balotelli is capable of causing any team problems on his day and the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Buffon are proven performers on the biggest of stages. Antonio Nocerino and Sebastian Giovinco add some flair in attacking midfield positions, whilst Giorgio Chiellini will lead a defence that often proves hard to breach. The Italians know how to play winning football and that, coupled with the unquestionable talent in the squad, may be enough to see them through a testing group. I do however feel that the ongoing police investigations and their repercussions have taken the players’ eyes off the prize. There is usually a big name casualty at every major tournament and this time I feel it may be the turn of Italy.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

Republic of Ireland

Manager: Giovanni Trapattoni

Captain: Robbie Keane

Star Player: Robbie Keane

Ireland may be seen as the group’s outsiders, but they are certainly live ones. They pushed Russia hard in qualifying group B, finishing just two points behind Dick Advocaat’s team and since then, their form has improved. They put Estonia to the sword during the playoffs and are currently on a 14 game unbeaten run following a 0-0 with Hungary yesterday evening (4th June). What is even more impressive is the fact that they have kept 11 clean sheets during that run.

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has seen just about everything the game has to offer and he has successfully moulded a team that is very difficult to beat. In a tournament like this, that is crucial as one-nil wins are good enough and they could potentially put a spanner in the works for someone in this group.

 

Giovanni Trapattoni has made Ireland very difficult to beat (This image is the property of The Hindu)

Ireland will rely heavily on hard work and a great team ethic as they lack the star power that other teams have. That said, Aiden McGeady can cause defenders problems with his trickery and Robbie Keane has shown time and again that he can score at international level. Furthermore, the sight of Shay Given fit and performing well against Hungary will have boosted morale and he brings a great deal of experience in the form of over 100 caps.

Unlike Italy and Spain, Ireland are not under any pressure as nobody expects them to make it out of the group. This should mean that they can enjoy the occasion and express themselves. The tactical discipline instilled by Trapattoni should ensure that they are not embarrassed but I believe the quality of the other three teams will mean that the men from the Emerald Isle do not progress from this group.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

Spain

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

Captain: Iker Casillas

Star Player: Xavi

On paper, Spain have by far the best squad in the tournament. There is arguably no better goalkeeper in world football than Iker Casillas, Xavi is in my opinion the best midfielder in the world and the likes of Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla are not bad either. In fact, when you consider that players like Iker Muniain, Adrian and David de Gea have had to miss out, it illustrates the riches available to Vicente del Bosque. Spain have the deepest squad at the tournament. Fabregas, Fernando Llorente and Juan Mata would walk in to any other team, but may find themselves on the bench here.

The Spaniards go in to the championships as defending champions (they are of course also world champions) and so many of the squad have tasted success at the highest level. Iker Casillas has over 130 caps, Xavi 108 and Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos are nearing the 100 mark. Spain therefore have a perfect mix of experience and talent.

 

Xavi is the most important cog in a well-oiled Spanish machine (This image is the property of Goal.com)

They won eight of eight in qualifying, scoring 26 and conceding six and so rightfully start as favourites, but their preparations have not been without issue. Defensive stalwart Carles Puyol has been sidelined by a knee injury and whilst he may be the most technically proficient player in Spain, he brings a determination and love of defending that nobody else in the squad can match. He will therefore be a miss. Furthermore, his Barcelona teammates Iniesta and Xavi looked tired towards the end of last season and the latter is reportedly not 100% fit.

A bigger worry is the loss of striker David Villa, who has failed to recover from a broken leg he sustained in December. With 51 goals, he is Spain’s all-time leading scorer and won the Golden Boot four years ago. In short, he has been a constant source of goals for Spain in recent years and may prove impossible to place. Attacking midfielders like David Silva and Fabregas will have to shoulder some of the burden as Fernando Torres has been struggling for form all season. Fernando Llorente has proved his quality for Athletic Bilbao but he is more of a big target man than an on the shoulder striker better suited to Spain’s tika-taka style of play. Replacing Villa or devising an alternative style of play will be the biggest challenge facing del Bosque, but such is the quality throughout the squad that they should still go far and I expect them to progress from this group as winners.

Sport Report Verdict: Group winners

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