Two questions heading into the final day in Group C – Will Spain and Croatia strike a ‘dirty deal’ to get a draw that will eliminate Italy from the picture, and can the Italian offense finally show more than a goal a match, against an Ireland defense that has conceded more than anyone so far in Euro 2012?
Croatia – Spain
Spain and Croatia have met four times since 1994, with the Spaniards winning their most recent clash back in 2006. They’re certainly the favorites to win again, with Del Bosque seemingly finding the right formula by putting Fernando Torres in front of his magical midfield combination.
For Croatia, the match against Italy showed that they need Luka Modric to be involved as much as possible in order to create things that turn into goals. For 60 minutes, with Thiago Motta closely watching, they found it hard to do. It should be even harder, for an entire match, against the ultra-dominant Spanish midfield. In order to help him, Nikica Jelavic will probably be dropped so Croatia have an extra man in the middle.
Italy vs Ireland
It’s been exactly a year since Ireland beat Italy 2-0, and 18 years to the day since their famous win over the Italians in the 1994 World Cup at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Still, Italy will be favorites to win today not just because they need the win while Ireland have nothing left to play for in the tournament.
Italy need to win, that’s for sure, but even that won’t be enough. A 0-0 draw between Croatia and Spain and Italy go through along with Spain. A 1-1 draw and it comes down to goal difference, which then means that Italy need a three goal win over Ireland, or simply a really insane win by two goals. If Croatia and Spain end their match in a 2-2, a result that reminds Italy of the 2004 Euro and the Sweden – Denmark match, the Italians can kiss the tournament goodbye.
There won’t be much change. The 3-5-2 that worked well as a wall to hold the Spanish invasion in the first match, the 3-5-2 that outplayed Croatia for most of the match but was only good enough for a draw. It’ll fall as to how accurate their strikers will be, hopefully Balotelli and Cassano, if both get the start, looking sharper and more decisive this team in front of goal.
The winner of Spain Croatia finishes on top of Group C. If it’s a draw, then it depends on how Italy come out against Ireland. Italy must win to make it through into the quarterfinals, and the win will be enough as long as there’s no draw in the other match. If there’s a draw, a 0-0 will put them through, while a 1-1 will go down to goal difference in the group, which means Italy will need to win by three goals. A 2-2 means Italy are out, even if they win.
Predictions – Spain don’t know how to play but constantly attack their opposition, and they will be too good eventually for Croatia who will be on the defensive, but don’t have the toughness to hold on to a draw for an entire match. Italy will beat Ireland, which should put them in the next stage.
Game Times – Both matches at 20:45, with Spain and Croatia playing in Gdansk while Italy and Ireland tackle each other in Poznan.