Euro 2012 Preview – Group C
In the third installment of our Euro 2012 build-up, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews Group C which contains the defending European champions Spain as well as Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.
CROATIA: Best Performance = Runner Up 1960, 1968 (as Yugoslavia); Quarter-Finals 1996, 2008 (as Croatia)
Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 the Croatian national team has performed by far the best out of the newly created independent states. As part of the former Yugoslavia, Croats played a part in the Yugoslavia teams who finished runner up on two occasions in the 1960s. Since independence Croatia has only failed to qualify for a major tournament on two out of nine occasions showing that the national team is still one for many teams to fear. In Group F of Euro 2012 qualifying the Croats finished two behind Greece in the standings before a convincing 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the play-offs gained them their place in the finals. Croatia’s main focus in the tournament will be Luka Modrić who has been in fine form for his club Tottenham Hotspur and whose distributive and creative qualities will be needed for attacking players such as Ivica Olić and Nikica Jelavić the opportunities to flourish.
COACH: Slaven Bilić
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 8
ITALY: Best Performance = Winners 1968
Even hard core fans of the Azzurri would begrudgingly admit that this is far from the most vintage Italian team that has ever graced an international tournament. For a nation which has been world champions on four occasions it is surprising that Italy has only one European Championship title to its name and not many would expect a second title to be winging its way into the trophy cabinet this time around. Despite the pessimism the Italians still have plenty of individual quality and it would be a fool who would completely write off their chances of performing well in this tournament. Italy qualified from qualifying Group C with an unbeaten record of eight wins and two draws and with experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo still playing an active role in the side anything is still possible if the team gets its tactics right during the tournament.
COACH: Cesare Prandelli
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 12
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 1988
They may be underdogs but the Irish wouldn’t have it any other way. Playing in only their second European Championship finals, the other being when Jack Charlton took them to West Germany in 1988, the Republic of Ireland will be something of an unknown quantity for their group opponents and, thus, they might be able to spring a surprise. Under the guidance of Italian legend Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland finished second behind Russia in qualifying Group B before sweeping aside Estonia 5-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. The Republic’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane will be spearheading the attack and if the likes of Damian Duff and Aiden McGeady can provide him with quality service from the flanks then there’s no reason why the Irish cannot upset some of the favourites.
COACH: Giovanni Trapattoni
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 18
SPAIN: Best Performance = Winners 2008
Victorious over Germany four years ago in this competition, the Spanish national team created history when winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to become only the third nation, along with Germany and France, to hold both the world and European titles simultaneously. Many superlatives have been used over the last few years to describe the current crop of talent at Spain’s disposal and they will be hoping to make further history by becoming the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments. The qualifying campaign was a breeze for Spain who finished with a 100% record in Group I and finished eleven points ahead of nearest challengers Czech Republic. Despite the absence of top scorer David Villa there are plenty of names who could win a game at any time for Spain. Names such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have been there and done that but there are also the likes of Álvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente who are hungry and keen to show what they can do at the highest level.
COACH: Vicente del Bosque
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 1
GROUP C FIXTURES
10/06/12 Spain v Italy
10/06/12 Croatia v Rep. of Ireland
14/06/12 Italy v Croatia
14/06/12 Spain v Rep. of Ireland
18/06/12 Croatia v Spain
18/06/12 Italy v Rep. of Ireland