Euro 2012: Group C Preview
An accomplished collection of teams, including two recent World Cup Champions (Italy & Spain); Euro 2008 quarterfinalists (Croatia); and a side nobody wants to play (Ireland). Spain is looking to win their third straight major championship, but there will be no walkovers among the other teams in this formidable group.
Croatia’s stand-out performer is Tottenham midfielder, Luka Modric. Simply put, everything good comes through him.
An array of passing capabilities enables Modric to dictate the flow of play, so it’s little wonder that the Croatian team has been built around the 26-year-old playmaker. The endlessly subtle and imaginative director of midfield will be an integral part to any Croatian success at this summer’s championships.
Such talent does not go unnoticed, with the Spurs midfielder attracting a number of admiring glances from a whole host of Europe’s elite.
Modric has been continuously linked with a move away from White Hart Lane, and the north London club will do well to retain the services of their key man, especially if he performs on one of the world’s biggest stages.
Intelligent. Astute. Passionate. Three words that best describe the outgoing Croatia manager, Slaven Bilic. The former Croatia international is coming to the end of his six-year tenure in charge of the national side, after agreeing to become the boss at Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow after Euro 2012.
This competition provides Bilic with one final opportunity to achieve something great, having reinvigorated the fortunes of Croatia since taking the reigns back in 2006.
They were not impressive in qualification, and are probably not as talented as previous Croatian squads. If they can get three points from Ireland in their first game, they should make the quarterfinals.
World ranking: 8th
Vs Republic of Ireland – June 10, Poznan.
Vs Italy – June 14, Poznan.
Vs Spain – June 18, Gdansk.
Gianluigi Buffon has seen it all. The Juventus shot-stopper has been through the mill with the Italian national team, from experiencing the highs of a World Cup win in 2006 to the failure to progress from the group stages back in 2010. Despite all this, Buffon has remained a reliable constant for the Italians.
With Italy renowned for their defensive football and their ability to shut-out the opposition, the Italy captain will have to be at his very best to assure any success for the Azzurri at Euro 2012.
Since taking the reigns in 2010, Cesare Prandelli has gone about his business with minimal fuss under difficult circumstances.
Following yet another corruption investigation into Italian football, you could forgive Prandelli for wishing he’d remained in the relatively mundane environment of Fiorentina, where he enjoyed a successful five-year spell as manager.
However, the opportunity to manage the national side, replacing Marcelo Lippi as Azzurri manager, proved to be too much, and the 56-year-old has attempted to transform the team to his own attractive, progressive approach.
Having qualified for this summer’s competition in a relatively straightforward manner, winning 8 and drawing 2, Prandelli’s side will inevitably prove to be stubborn opponents for those in Group C, and as has been seen in years gone by, anything is possible with the Italians.
This team has all the ingredients to make a run at the semifinals, but could also easily self-implode and crash out in grand fashion.
World ranking: 12th
Vs Spain – June 10, Gdansk.
Vs Croatia – June 14, Poznan.
Vs Ireland – June 18, Poznan.
Republic of Ireland
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the hopes of a nation will rest firmly on the shoulders of Republic of Ireland captain, Robbie Keane.
As the countries top scorer, Keane will need to be at the top of his game as he looks to fire Ireland to the latter stages of the competition.
Capped 116 times, scoring 53 goals in the process, Keane is the most successful Irish player in history, and the LA Galaxy front man will need to improve on his impressive international strike rate even further if Ireland are to have any chance of qualifying from Group C into the knockout stages.
Italian tactician Giovanni Trapattoni is one of the most experienced managers at this summer’s European Championships.
Euro 2012 marks the first appearance in a major tournament under the tutelage of the well-travelled Trapattoni, and although the Irish are considered long outsiders in the competition, they should not be written off completely.
Trapattoni has assembled a solid, if unspectacular side and whilst Ireland may not have as many big-names as their counterparts, they are capable of springing a surprise or two.
The wildcard is their Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni. The Irish are playing confident football, and he has them believing they belong. It would not be a shock to see them in the quarterfinals if Keane gets some help up front
World ranking: 18th
Vs Croatia – June 10, Poznan.
Vs Spain – June 14, Gdansk.
Vs Italy – June 18, Poznan.
Spain are hardly short of talent, and in truth you could identify four or five players as their ‘star man’, such is the strength in depth at the disposal of boss Vicente Del Bosque.
But for me, Xavi stands out above the rest. In my opinion, he is one of, if not the best playmaker in the world, and is a fundamental reason why Spain have enjoyed such success in recent tournaments.
Despite approaching the last few years of his career, at 32, Xavi is still a world-class player and will once again play an integral role as Spain look to defend their title.
If they are successful, Spain will become the first team in history to win three successive major international tournaments, a feat befitting of one of the most successful national teams of all time.
With such a talented group of players available, you need a manager that is confident, head-strong and successful. Vicente Del Bosque fits that criteria.
At the helm during the triumphant World Cup success of 2010, Del Bosque will be expected to guide his team to further glory in Poland and Ukraine this summer.
And, as defending champions of the European Championship title, the pressure to reproduce performances similar to those of the last two tournaments will be overwhelming.
Having played a style of football that is the envy of nations across the world, Spain will be sure-fire favourites to reclaim their title as Europe’s best team, and it will take something special to stop them.
Only four years ago, Spain was considered a perennial underachiever in major tournaments. The expectations have now reversed, and anything other than an appearance in the final will be a surprise.
World ranking: 1st
Vs Italy – June 10, Gdansk.
Vs Ireland – June 14, Gdansk.
Vs Croatia – June 18, Gdansk.