Euro 2012 Group C Preview

Euro 2012 Group C Preview

  • Posted by Geoff Reid
  • On June 8, 2012
  • Aidan McGeady, Carles Puyol, Cesare Prandelli, Croatia, Euro 2012, Fernando Torres, Gianluigi Buffon, Giovanni Trapattoni, Guus Hiddink, Ireland, Italy, Johan Cryuff, Luka Modric, Marcelo Lippi, Mario Balotelli, Nikica Jelavic, Robbie Keane, Spain, Vicente Del Bosque, Xabi Alonso

Spain should breeze through Group C according to Geoff Reid. (Getty Images)

By Geoff Reid

Group C
The last nation to go into a major tournament as defending World and European champions was France in 2002. The outcome was not very kind to that French side after they finished last in their group in South Korea. That is extremely unlikely to happen to the Spanish going into this competition. The only concerns for manager Vicente Del Bosque is how he’ll replace Barcelona duo Carles Puyol and David Villa due to long term injuries, as well as the form of Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, and fitness of Xavi Hernandez. There has also been talk of unrest in the squad the last couple of days between the Real Madrid and Barcelona players, although the team have played it down. In all honesty after it’s said and done, Spain is in the middle of it’s finest generation of talent: the style of play has been settled for a number of years now with the Tiki-taka model built by Dutchman Johan Cryuff at Barcelona, each position on the field has excellent cover in case of injuries, an extremely good core of young players coming through the ranks, and most important of all, broke that major psychological barrier four years ago when the national side could never get over the hump and win a major tournament. Is this success that the national team have had the last few years coming to an end? The answer is no, with so much youth who are talented coming through the pipeline, it’s no worries, and are also favorites to win the Olympic tournament in a few months as well. Del Bosque is a no risk taker, with his preferred formation being a 4-3-3, but can easily turn into a 4-2-3-1 if he wants Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets sitting in front of the back four.

A lot of attention has been focused on Croatia manager Slaven Bilic and the reason things have turned sour under his reign as national team boss after such a positive start. He’s already confirmed his exit after the tournament after signing a contract to manage Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow, but is convinced to go out with a bang. After reaching the quarter finals four years ago, the Croats failed to qualify for the World Cup, and barely came through qualifying for this tournament. It wasn’t until they defeated Turkey, managed by Guus Hiddink, 3-0 during the playoffs. One thing that is positive for Bilic and his squad is the mentality of ‘us against the world’ as a sense of togetherness they can thrive off of. Can they do some damage? Absolutely, the players are as talented with the best in the world. A problem is the defense, which is very shaky at best, and haven’t got the cover to paper over the cracks. The key players will be Tottenham’s Luka Modric, Everton’s Nikica Jelavic, and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Darijo Srna. Modric is the most creative, and tends to sit deeper for Croatia, but will have freedom to get forward when he feels like it. Bilic plays a 4-4-1-1, but the key really is where Modric plays, because if he plays well, so does Croatia.

The draw hasn’t been kind for the Italians, but at least their first game is against Spain, and out of the way. When Cesare Prandelli took over national team boss from Marcelo Lippi after the last World Cup, he promised to make the Azzurri an attacking and attractive team that is generally likable. He’s done this by installing the technically gifted players in the midfield and tried to mirror the ‘Tiki-taka’ style that Spain play, which is unusual because the Italian system has always been soaking up the pressure, defend as one, and counter attack. So far Prandelli has had mixed results, which is to be expected trying to change a style of play that’s lasted so long. The team went undefeated in qualifying, but friendly results haven’t quite gone as planned. Yet again, there is another match fixing scandal hanging over the squad’s head, although this one doesn’t look to be anywhere near as bad as 1982 or 2006 with 98% of the team not involved. Then again, in 1982 and 2006, both times the Azzurri had the last laugh. The foundation starts between the pipes, and Gianluigi Buffon is back after an injury plagued 2010-11 season, he was in fine form for Serie’ A champions Juventus. Much spotlight will be on Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli who has tremendous skill, strength, technique and personality. The problem we all know is can he keep his head on straight? While the midfield will be full of flair, Roma destroyer Daniele De Rossi will provide that bite in the middle that is needed. Tactically, Prandelli has been very flexible favoring a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 with a diamond shaped midfield all the way through qualification. A 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 is also possible with the personnel on hand, but question marks to remain at the back.

The Irish haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup, and this is only their second European championships since Euro ’88. They haven’t had the necessary luck the Irish usually provide the last few years, with a very cruel loss to France in the playoffs which cost them from qualifying for the World Cup two years ago. So while there is a lot of positivity around the Irish camp, and the green army will be out in all it’s force, it’s still an extremely tough group for anyone, let alone Ireland to get out of. If Giovanni Trapattoni’s men can pick up a win in their first game against Croatia, it will give them as good of a chance as they’re going to get to make it to the knockout rounds. Captain Robbie Keane remains Ireland’s most important player. The LA Galaxy striker can play up top, drop back into the midfield, and can also play between the midfield and the furthest center forward, which should be West Brom striker Shane Long. A lot of pressure will also be on midfielder Aidan McGeady, who has for the longest time been tipped as Ireland’s next sensation. Now he has that chance to prove it on the biggest stage. As for formation, Trapattoni has stuck by his tried and trusted 4-4-2 with two solid lines of four which some will say is outdated today. The trouble is with the players at his disposal, it’s the system that best fits the players available. At the end of the day, Ireland have absolutely nothing to lose.

Spain 1-0 Italy
Ireland 1-1 Croatia
Italy 1-2 Croatia
Spain 2-0 Ireland
Croatia 0-2 Spain
Italy 1-1 Ireland

1. Spain 9pts
2. Croatia 4pts
3. Ireland 2pts
4. Italy 1pt