By Mike O’Brien
Hosting the defending World and European champions many people thought Group C would be as clear cut as it can get. But Spain played a risky game in their opener against Italy and going into round two it is quite surprisingly Croatia who tops the group being the only team to win their first game.
Italy V Croatia
Having held Spain to a 1-1 draw in their first game Italy will need to put in a good performance against the Croatians who were highly impressive against Republic of Ireland. Goal scorer for Italy in the first game Antonio Di Natale has to start in my opinion. Their performance was flat and despite creating a few chances they never seemed to do enough to worry Spain whereas Di Natale took just three minutes after coming on to find the back of the net. He should be brought in, in place of Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli who was far from impressive in the Spain game and even threw away Italy’s greatest chance when he took advantage of a bad back pass by Gerard Pique but seemed to think that walking it into the goal was a better idea and was eventually tackled by Pique who sprinted back to recover well.
Croatia who are currently top of Group C after their impressive 3-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland in game one, will pose an interesting challenge for the former world champions. Particularly impressive against ROI was Mario Mandzukic who helped himself to two goals after some questionable goalkeeping by Shay Given. On form Everton striker Nikica Jelavic grabbed the second goal after many suspected offside against him but finished his goal very well.
This one should be more of a challenge for the Italians than people would have first thought. Croatia have a real chance at winning this if they can get off to a flying start like they did against ROI and with Italy looking like a shadow of their former selves I actually tip Croatia to come away with this one.
Spain Vs Republic of Ireland
World Champions Spain surprised everyone with their team sheet against Italy by not playing any strikers and employing six of the world’s biggest midfielders. The only problem with this was that Spain never really rushed Italy’s back line and I feel that some of the possession they had would have been more challenging with the presence of someone like Fernando Llorente upfront. They did of course bring on struggling striker Fernando Torres who had two great chances to win the game for Spain and I feel the Torres of three years ago would have buried one if not both of them. For the next game I feel the same tactics would be enough to overcome the Irish but Coach Vicente Del Bosque should realise his mistake from the Italy game and hopefully play a striker.
Republic of Ireland have a mountain to climb if they are to have any hope of making it to the quarter finals of Euro 2012. I don’t however see them having a chance against the defending European champions as they failed to put any real pressure on Croatia in the first game and despite scoring a very well worked goal they didn’t pose much more of a threat. Aging striker Robbie Keane will be hoping for more chances against Spain than what he got against Croatia or his last major tournament may be filled with disappointment.
Overall I see the Spanish being too much for Ireland to handle and coming away with a relatively comfortable victory. Should Croatia win their game, then regardless what Spain do they will be sat in second in Group C going into their final game against Croatia to decide who tops the group.
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