Group C in the Euro 2012 is a group of fierce and skilled teams. It features the best team in the world (Spain), an aging but still proud and dangerous squad (Italy), an up-and coming, vastly talented squad (Croatia) and the junk yard dog of the group (Ireland) who will try to make their games as ugly as they possibly can to claw points out of each contest. An interesting group and one that is very difficult to predict.
Predicted Order of Finish- Spain, Ireland, Croatia, Italy
Spain- Where do you start with Spain? They have four fantastic attackers. Manager Vicente del Bosque has narrowed it down to two in many experts’ opinions. Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao- Spain) or Fernando Torres (Chelsea- England) will most likely get the start up top. Either one is extremely dangerous. Torres is the more experienced at this level while Llorente has had a wonderful season and is currently in better form. Torres is the choice for me. He is one of the best strikers in the world and he has regained his composure and is playing with confidence heading into the tournament.
The Spanish midfield might be the best their national side has ever put together. It starts with the best center midfielder in the world in Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona- Spain). He is the undisputed orchestrator of the Spanish offense. His short passing game that he controls is what makes Spain flourish. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona- Spain) might be the 2nd best midfielder in the world. He likes to flow in and out of spots all over the field providing options for Spain’s short, precise passing game. His through balls and crosses are among the most precise in all of soccer. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona- Spain) receives a lot of grief for his style of play. He flops, he fakes injury and he is not the most graceful, but he does his job of halting counterattacks and being versatile in defense and attack about as well as anybody at his position. Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid- Spain) is a crafty and physical midfielder who can punch in goals from distance if given space.
Defensively, the Spanish will miss Carles Puyol (Barcelona- Spain) who is out with injury They will be anchored by Gerald Pique (Barcelona- Spain) and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid- Spain). The Spanish defense will be critical to their success. If their wing defenders press up on offense, which they have a tendency to do, it opens them up to the counter-attack and teams in this group will try to take advantage of that potential weakness.
There is no weakness in goal as Iker Casillas (Real Madrid- Spain) will be between the pipes. He is one of the three best keepers in the world and the Spanish will rely on him greatly in tight situations.
Key Game- Italy (June 10th) – First group game and first chance to send a message. Italy has not looked good in pre-tournament matchups and Spain can smash home the fact that the Italians are not on their level by scoring early and often in this contest. If they get off and running, Spain will be tough to stop. If they don’t take three points from this game, it gives everyone in the group hope.
Outlook- I think they blitz the Italians, have a tough time breaking down the Irish before defeating them and skim by the physically tough Croatians. They will go far in this tournament if their strikers can play to their potential and score big goals when the situation dictates it. I think they are the clear favorites to win it all.
Ireland- This might be seen as a very illogical pick, but the old Italian mastermind, 73 year-old manager Giovanni Trappatoni, might have one last trick up his sleeve before he calls it a day. The Irish have tried to play prettier football over the past couple of years, but the bottom line is Ireland lack the star-studded talent to do just that. Trappatoni will revert to clogging up midfield and playing 9 or 10 players behind the ball while hoping to launch efficient counterattacks.
Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy- United States) will spearhead the attack up front as he tries to connect with either Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton- England) or Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion- England) at the other forward spot. Goals will be necessary as scoreless draws in this group won’t happen too often.
In the midfield, Damien Duff (Fulham- England) and Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow- Russia) will be the Irish’s most important players. They need to open up the opponent’s defense on the wings and deliver crosses into scoring areas as frequently as possible. The Irish will count on them on the counterattack to fly down the sidelines and cause havoc.
The Irish defense is unquestionably led by center back Richard Dunne (Aston Villa- England). He is the quarterback of the defense and will have his hands full leading Sean St. Ledger (Leicester City- England) and John O’Shea (Sunderland) to try to stop their opposition. The Irish are not fleet of foot at the back and must be brilliant with their defensive position and not make poor decisions with their tackles to get out of this group. Their greatest strength is their physicality and they will need it, especially against the Croats and Italians.
Shay Given (Aston Villa- England) is a solid goaltender with international experience. He is widely regarded as one of the better keepers in the EPL and will have to play in an outstanding fashion for the Irish to advance.
Key Game- Croatia (June 10th) – If they can get three points in game one, it could create a confident monster of a team that will be tough to break down. They need to get at least one point from this game if they hope to advance.
Outlook- I think the Irish have the ability to come out of this group solely because Italy and Croatia are slightly disorganized and lack the confidence right now to close teams out. They will go through in a three-way tie on goal difference.
Croatia- A difficult team to predict because their coach doesn’t even know who he is going to start the day before the game. Coach Slaven Bilic still had not announced his starting lineup, one day before the game. Will these shenanigans work to take the pressure off of his team? We shall see tomorrow.
The attack should be lead by Nikica Jelavic (Everton- England). He scored with regularity in the EPL ever since he joined from Rangers in Scotland during the winter transfer window. He is creative and finishes well when given opportunities. Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich- Germany) and Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk- Ukraine) could also factor as the tournament continues.
Their midfield is their strength. Luka Modric (Tottenham- England) is the team’s best player and will be at the forefront of the attack for the Croats. Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk- Ukraine) is a skilled attacking midfielder who possesses a cannon shot and Daniel Pranjic (Bayern Munich- Germany) will try to provide a stabilizing presence to the center of the field. Niko Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev- Ukraine) could be the X-factor. He is completely focused on regaining his stature after signing a new contract with the Ukrainian team. He can score and pass at an elite level and will be needed to break down the tougher defensive sides in the tournament.
Bilic will have to create a makeshift defense which will be led by Vedran Corluka (Tottenham- England) and Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb- Croatia). It is their weakest unit and will have a tough time holding up in the group.
Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov- Russia) should be in net as the tournament begins. He is an above-average goaltender with decent size. He will have to play lights out for Croatia to advance.
Key Game- Ireland (June 10th) – They will be looking to take three points from this first game, but one point should suffice. If they can get the three points, the knock Ireland out of contention and only have to worry about the Italians to get through to the quarterfinals.
Outlook- They are talented, especially in the midfield. But, they struggle in the back and it will cost them dearly. They will win a game, but go out on goal difference.
Italy- I am not sold on this Italian squad. I think their coaching is suspect. The leadership on this team is old and some of the younger players have not responded to their pleading for more effort. If Mario Balotelli is counted on to provide you anything, you are taking an enormous risk. I just don’t see them getting through group play even with all of the individual talent they possess. Then again, they could win the group as well.
Mario Balotelli (Man City- England) is one of the most controversial players in the sport. He possesses unbelievable talent, but a questionable attitude. His decision making during his club season led to numerous sending off’s and many cautions. He can carry a team or destroy a team by being sent off for doing something ridiculous. He is tough to count on, but may be Italy’s best chance of getting out of this group. He has to be firing on all cylinders for Italy to move on. He should get some help up front from another temperamental striker in Antonio Cassano (AC Milan- Italy)
Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan- Italy) and Danielle De Rossi (AS Roma- Italy) are two veteran performers who will be counted on in the midfield to provide consistent performances. Pirlo is a creator and great on set pieces. He lacks pace, but makes up for it with top-notch decision making skills. De Rossi can get forward, but his strength is as a defensive midfielder who controls the game’s pace of play. Both will have to be stellar for Italy to advance.
The X- factors could be Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina- Italy) and Claudio Marchisio (Juventus- Italy). They will be asked to link the midfield with the two strikers and if they can do that early and often, Italy’s chances to advance significantly improve.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus- Italy) will be asked to lead the defense and he is more than capable. Christian Maggio (Napoli- Italy) is an attacking defender who will share the defensive leadership with Chiellini. The Italians tend to be very stingy historically at the defensive end and will need that to continue for them to have a good chance at moving on.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus- Italy) is the last line of defense for the Azzuri. He is good, but he is on his last legs and might have to be Italy’s best player during the pool play portion of the tournament if he wants to lead his team through.
Key Game- Ireland (June 18th) – They must break them down and bounce them out. Three points are necessary here for Italy to move on.
Outlook- I am going out on a limb here saying Italy will not advance. They have a ton of talent, but lack the chemistry necessary to move on. They will go out on goal difference.
About the Author
Written by Michael Jenkins
I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Graduated from THE University of Arizona. I now reside part time in San Francisco, CA. I am a diehard Phoenix Coyotes fan (season ticket holder since Day 1) and a diehard Chelsea FC fan. I am passionate, energetic and highly grateful to get the opportunity to work in this business again.