Our roundup of Euro 2012 moves onto Group C, a group that looks particularly competitive, especially considering it contains defending Champions Spain. Republic of Ireland represent the Home Nations, but they face a tough ask in all honesty. Here is a review of the four teams:
Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Captain: Iker Casillas
Star Man: Xavi
One to Watch: Fernando Llorente
Fifa Ranking: 1
Previous Tournament History: Winners (1964, 2008)
If they were a film: The Shawshank Redemption – A timeless classic that will always be at the top of everyone’s lists. Superb from start to finish. However, there is a feeling it’s getting just a little long in the tooth and everyone only rates it because it’s the popular choice.
Qualifying Roundup: Aside from being the best side in the world, the Spaniards also were handed an easy group. They didn’t disappoint either, winning every game without ever really being tested. The Czech Republic and Scotland gave them a couple of decent games, but as expected Spain cruised through their group.
Tournament Analysis: What can you say about the Spanish? The current World and European Champions have done everything, dominating the modern game through a crop of genuine superstars. The backbone of the side contains the aces in Barcelona’s pack and Xavi and Iniesta are just as good in the red of their country as they are for their club. A couple of question marks have arisen this tournament. Up front Fernando Llorente has the challenge of replacing the injured David Villa, while the defence is missing long-term stalwart Carles Puyol. Some pundits have suggested that Spain could be burnt out, with most of their players having faced a gruelling schedule for clubs and country over the last couple of years. However, they are still favourites in most people’s books and it would be a major surprise if they weren’t to reach the showpiece final in Kiev on the 1st of July
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
Star Man: Daniele De Rossi
One to Watch: Antonio Cassano
Fifa Ranking: 12
Previous Tournament History: Winners (1968)
If they were a film: A Clockwork Orange – Always controversial, never fails to divide opinion. No doubting its quality though and will always be there or thereabouts in the pecking order.
Qualifying Roundup: Despite facing a couple of challenges from the likes of Serbia, Estonia and Slovenia, Italy were never really threatened, going through qualifying unbeaten, winning eight of their ten matches. They ended Northern Ireland’s hopes and impressively only conceded two goals throughout the entire process. Easy peasy.
Tournament Analysis: Ah, Italy. There never seems to be an easy moment for the Azzurri and once again, a domestic match-fixing scandal has erupted on the eve of a major tournament. The side were seriously considering withdrawing from the tournament at one stage and defender Dominic Criscito was axed from the squad following these allegations. However, you have to remember what happened last time. Under the cloud of similar circumstances, Italy won the World Cup in 2006. The current side doesn’t contain players of the same calibre though, and no one fancies the Italians to trouble anyone in the latter stages of the tournament. They do have some quality in the likes of De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio and despite a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Russia last week, the defence should be as solid as ever. In Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, they have a pair of enigmas capable of lighting up any tournament. Beware the danger of self-implosion though.
Coach: Slaven Bilic
Captain: Darijo Srna
Star Man: Luka Modric
One to Watch: Nikica Jelavic
Fifa Ranking: 8
Previous Tournament History: Quarter Finals (1996, 2008)
If they were a film: The Dictator – A decent watch and the director always attracts plenty of laughs. Easy on the eye and receives admiring nods from other quarters, but never likely to create any massive shockwaves.
Qualifying Roundup: Croatia faced a relatively simple task in qualifying and they were expected to go through with ease. This didn’t turn out to be the case however. Defeats to Georgia and Greece left them trailing and although they held onto second spot from Israel, the Greeks pipped them to top spot. However, a superb display away in Turkey saw them win 3-0 in the playoffs and a 0-0 draw at home secured qualification.
Tournament Analysis: Four years ago, Slaven Bilic’s men were the dark horses of the tournament, but no such expectation hangs over them this time around. A lot depends on Luka Modric and whether he can get the side ticking and he will be assisted by Spurs colleague Niko Kranjcar and skipper Srna in midfield. Up front, all Premier League eyes will be on Everton’s Nikica Jelavic to see if he can reproduce his splendid club form on the biggest stage. If he does, expect Croatia to be a serious threat to the Italians and perhaps even push Spain close as well. Bilic knows how to get the best out of his team and Croatia will fancy their chances of pulling off a couple of upsets.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni
Captain: Robbie Keane
Star Man: Robbie Keane
One to Watch: James McClean
Fifa Ranking: 18
Previous Tournament History: Group Stage (1988)
If they were a film: Happy Gilmore – It’s a feel-good favourite that everyone loves to support, but let’s be honest, we all know it’s rubbish.
Qualifying Roundup: The draw was fairly kind to the Irish, avoiding any of the big names in world football, but they still had to battle the Russians. They missed out on top spot, losing just the one game to Russia, but some hard-fought performances saw them edge out Slovakia and Armenia to qualify for the playoffs. The luck of the Irish handed them Estonia, the weakest team in the draw and they destroyed them, winning 4-0 in Tallinn, before drawing 1-1 at home to reach their second European Championships.
Tournament Analysis: The plucky Irish have done well just to qualify and their fans will relish the opportunity to attend a major tournament again. They impressed last time they did at the 2002 World Cup and the star man then, Robbie Keane, is still the one to watch this time around. The country’s record scorer with over 50 goals, Keane makes up for his lack of pace these days with his instinct in front of goal. Behind him, there isn’t much else. Aiden McGeady can sparkle, but consistency often eludes him, while Damien Duff on the other flank is not the player he once was. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are nothing more than midfield battleaxes who will give the proverbial 110%. Giovanni Trapattoni’s side don’t play the prettiest football, but they play in a solid structure that will make them difficult to break down. If Ireland are to stand any chance, the Trap needs to look to Sunderland’s James McClean who has been included in the final 23. The flying winger was nothing short of sensational last season and he could provide Eire with the creativity they are so badly missing.
4. Republic of Ireland