In a different time, this might have been a group of death as well. But in the Euro 2012, Spain seem to be clear favorites while Italy hope that a change of style will erase the embarrassment of the World Cup failure; Croatia are better than their recent results suggest; Ireland rely on team spirit and Robbie Keane’s scoring touch.
The World Champions and European champions heading into the tournament have to be considered as the favorites, right? A perfect qualifying campaign, 12 players from the two best teams in the world? Why are people not so keen on going for Spain?
Fatigue, and the lack of big name striker. Fernando Torres is a big name, but after 18 hellish months at Chelsea, many were suprprised with his inclusion. Still, he did score a goal in Spain’s latest friendly match and he did score the winner for them in the previous tournament against Germany. The key, as always, is their incredible quality in the middle of the park with Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas.
Can Italy arrive to this Euro at a worst condition? Losing their last three friendly matches, without scoring a single goal; The match fixing scandal in Italy that has already cost coach Prandelli defender Domenico Criscito with Gianluigi Buffon also involved in an unclear way so far.
Prandelli has made Italy a more attacking, midfield based side these last two seasons, with a 4-3-1-2 that relies heavily on the Juventus defense and goalkeeper to keep up its excellent league form (conceding only 20 goals). But goals have to come from somewhere, and the unstable Mario Balotelli is Italy’s best option up front.
Croatia are never among favorites heading into any tournament, but they’re almost always there, reaching the quarter finals more often than not. This will be Slaven Bilic’s last tournament as head coach of the national team, hoping to leave his successful tenure with a good taste left in his mouth and the Croatian nation.
Despite the obvious talent, with Modric, Rakitic and Kranjcar, there’s not a lot of belief and hope in this squad to make it far this time. Bilic will hope that Nikica Jelavic keeps his excellent form from his few months with Everton and maybe a youngster like Perisic to step up.
Giovanni Trapattoni has led Ireland to their first Euro since 1988 and first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup basing on the talents of his two veterans and best players – Robbie Keane and Damien Duff. The rest? Hard work and team spirit. It may be cliche, but it worked well thus far, although it’s hard to see what Ireland can come up with beside aggression and fighting spirit against three squads, all better on paper than them.
Prediction – Spain and Italy joust in the group’s opening match, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Italy fail to win that match it knocks them out of the tournament. They always struggle against Croatia and generally, don’t be surprised to see them leaving the tournament after the group stage. Spain to finish first, Croatia second.