In group C, two teams can be immediately pointed out as favourites to go through to the quarter-finals: Spain and Italy. The theoretically most accessible team will certainly be Ireland, with Croatia hoping to pip one of the favourites to the top places. However, at a time when reactive sides seem to be doing increasingly well against possession-based sides, Ireland could cause some surprises under the guidance of Giovanni Trapatonni.
Spain are the european and world champions and are again the overall favourites to the title and as such are also favourites for taking the group. Still basing the side around the Barcelona and Real Madrid players with a couple of others thrown in, Spain will expect to pass their way to the top and use this style to both attack and defend. In comparison to their sides from 2008 and 2010, there are some changes in personnel which could prove to be important, especially at the back. If the absence of Capdevilla should not be a problem (Jordi Alba should be a more than capable replacement), Puyol’s injury not only removes the most dynamic member of the back four, but also the man who commanded them and kept the whole group concentrated (as well as scoring some important goals). As an extra, the switch of Sergio Ramos from the right to the centre also caused Arbeloa to start and thus remove some of the width that Ramos brought with his forward surges. The absence of David Villa also brings one extra problem, as Spain strongly depended on him for goals. With Torres’ drought and with Llorente’s different style of game, Spain are somewhat wanting for goals. However, with the amount of opportunities they are likely to create, this should not be an important problem during the group phase.
Despite seeming less strong than in other years, Spain should take the top place in the group. Being qualified by the last match, it is possible they will settle for a draw with Croatia.
Italy seemed to be one of the biggest favorites after Spain, Germany and Holland, but the recent betting-investigations seem to have taken a dent on their confidence and fluidity. With that in mind, Italy has taken two World Cups in scandal filled years, but it is possible this year that flip will turn out a strech too far. In a side with Buffon, Chiellini, Pirlo, de Rossi or Ballotelli, anything can be expected, but some of these players could be excused for being a bit distracted at present (Ballotelli lives in that state permanently). On top of that, the recent injury to Barzagli reduced the tactical options at the disposal of Cerare Prandelli for the group matches and may mean Italy will not be able to switch between four and three at the back as he might have wished.
All in all, if Italy manage to stay focused, they could be the biggest surprise of the tournament (what with them not being considered real contenders), but they still will come second to Spain in the group phase.
Croatia have been for some time most commentators’ dark horses but have always failed to live up to expectations. In the end the lack of real world class players apart from Luka Modric and a shaky defence always seem to make the difference against the bigger or more determined teams. With this being the last tournament national coach Slaven Bilic will take part, it is also the last opportunity to take advantage of a certain core of players at thier highest level. The team depend very strongly, and as it would be expected, on Modric’s playmaking qualities. His time in England has supplied him with the ability to deal with more physical opponents, but that should not be the biggest issue in this group apart from Ireland (who defend very deep in any case). More decisive might be the capacity of widening the play on the part of Dario Srna, Perisic or Pranjic, especially when dealing with Spain and Italy, teams which have a natural tendency to play more narrow. In the end, however, much of the success will be placed on the capacity of converting their chances and in that regard Croatia may come somewhat short.
In other groups, Croatia would be strong favourites to go through, but against Italy and Spain, it is quite likely they will come short. Much of the croats’ possibilities will rest on Italy overcoming the recent distress. If Italy falter, Croatia could very well go through.
Ireland‘s presence at the Euros should already come as a success and a testament to old man Trapatonni’s abilities to bring the best out of weaker sides. Recognizing the limitations of his side, he should line up with a safety-first approach and relying on a direct game and set-pieces to get a goal. Truth is, I do not know enough about Ireland and most english speaking readers will be better informed than me, so I will just jump to the predictions.
These are quite simple: Ireland would be lucky to escape with anything at all from this group. Still, a surprise result is not beyond them and even if they should go through, they may well complicate things for the favourites.