EURO 2012 Preview: Group C
Ranking: 1; Qualifying record: 8-0-0; Best finish: Champion, 1964, 2008; Coach: Vicente Del Bosque; Nickname: La Roja
Spain is bidding to become the first team ever to win three consecutive major tournaments (2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, now), and they’d have to be considered the odds-on favorite. However, missing top scorer David Villa and stalwart defender Carlos Puyol, they might be as vulnerable as they’ll ever be. Which is to say, not that vulnerable.
Player to watch: Fernando Torres. After a disappointing, well, 18 months, the Chelsea striker will have possibly his last chance to show he’s still a world class forward in this tournament. Spain will be missing Villa, so Torres (or if not him, Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo) will have to pick up the slack.
Ranking: 12; Qualifying record: 8-2-0; Best finish: Champion, 1968; Coach: Cesare Prandelli; Nickname: Azzuri
The usually reliably good, if a bit boring, Italians come into this tournament with expectations as low as they can get with this team, especially after their recent home defeats to the U.S. and Uruguay. This might serve to help this team shock some people in this tournament, but with their usual quality lacking (Diamante? Borini? Giaccherini? Who are these guys), it probably won’t happen.
Player to watch: Twin terrors. Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are undoubtedly two of the most talented players in world football, but they are also arguably the two most unhinged players in world football. So they’ll either score lots of goals, or as Balotelli threatened in the event of racial abuse, walk off the field and kill someone.
Republic of Ireland
Ranking: 18; Qualifying record: 4-3-1 (beat Estonia in playoff); Best finish: Group stage, 1988; Coach: Giovanni Trappatoni; Nickname: The Boys in Green
Ireland are kind of a pleasing story for the casual fan, making only their second appearance in the tourney after missing out on the World Cup in 2010 on a Thierry Henry handball. In a group where only Spain could be considered a dead-on certainty to advance to the next round, it wouldn’t be too big of a shock to see Ireland advance to the knockout stages.
Player to watch: Robbie Keane. After a middling start to the MLS season, the LA Galaxy striker is probably relieved to be back with the national team, who he generally excels with. Whether he gets enough time and space to score goals in this tournament is another matter.
Ranking: 8; Qualifying record: 5-1-2 (Beat Turkey); Best finish: Quarter-finals, 1996, 2008; Coach: Slaven Bilic; Nickname: Vatreni
Croatia are generally a competitive squad, and performed well in the last Euros, but have only won one out of their last 10 matches against teams that are appearing in this tournament. Whether they advance is largely dependent on getting off to a good start in their opening match against Ireland.
Player to watch: Luka Modric. Tottenham Hotspur’s pint-sized midfielder endured a difficult campaign as Spurs narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification. It’s possible that he’ll again push for a transfer to a bigger club like he did last year – will this tournament be his chance to push up his market value?
Spain vs. Italy
Ireland vs. Croatia
Italy vs. Croatia
Spain vs. Ireland
Croatia vs. Spain
Italy vs. Ireland
Jeremiah says: I’m one of those people that are tired of Spain’s domination at international and club level (I know Chelsea won the Champions League, but 9 times out of 10 they would’ve lost to Barca in the semis), so I’m secretly hoping that they stumble somehow. But with a relatively easy group, it’s probably not going to happen here. The other qualifier isn’t quite so easy to predict. Italy is missing some key pieces due to injury or match-fixing allegations, and neither Croatia or Ireland are dominant forces in world football. That will probably make for an interesting tournament, though.