Euro 2012 Group C: Ireland's opponents
Monday 04 June 2012
Italy Fifa ranking 12
It is a shame that yet another corruption investigation is afflicting Italian football so close to a major tournament. First-choice left-back Domenico Criscito has already been dropped after having his room searched by police, while Leonardo Bonucci has also been investigated.
Of course, Italy did recover from scandals in 1982 and 2006 to win World Cups, and there is always the possibility of this being a galvanising moment. But while Cesare Prandelli's team are moving away from Marcello Lippi's austere model, they are not there yet.
The fear is that they will not create or score enough goals. With Giuseppe Rossi badly injured, they may need to combine the mavericks Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, both unpredictable and, together, untested. Antonio Di Natale, the reliable hero of Udinese, would be a rather safer pick.
Italy's strength, though, is further back. They still have two titans of the World Champion side of six years ago, in Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo. These are not mere throw-backs: they were both exceptional players in Juventus's Scudetto-winning side this year, Pirlo showing his continued relevance as he effectively took the title with him from Milan to Turin. His midfield grace will be paired with the grit of Daniele De Rossi.
Juventus should also provide the heart of the defence, with Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Bonucci all available. To their right will be Napoli flyer Christian Maggio, as good as any right-back in the Euros. Expect to see him in the latter stages as well.
Manager: Cesare Prandelli He arrived from Fiorentina after the last World Cup and has tried to adapt the team to his own attractive, progressive approach.
Tournament odds 14-1.
1. Gianluigi Buffon Goalkeeper (Juventus)
2. Christian Maggio Defender (Napoli)
3. Giorgio Chiellini Defender (Juventus)
4. Angelo Ogbonna Defender (Torino)
5. Thiago Motta Midfielder (Paris Saint-Germain)
6. Federico Balzaretti Defender (Palermo)
7. Ignazio Abate Defender (Milan)
8. Claudio Marchisio Midfielder (Juventus)
9. Mario Balotelli Striker (Manchester City)
10. Antonio Cassano Striker (Milan)
11. Antonio Di Natale Striker (Udinese)
12. Salvatore Sirigu Goalkeeper (Paris Saint-Germain)
13. Emanuele Giaccherini Midfielder (Juventus)
14. Morgan De Sanctis Goalkeeper (Napoli)
15. Andrea Barzagli Defender (Juventus)
16. Daniele De Rossi Midfielder (Roma)
17. Fabio Borini Striker (Roma)
18. Riccardo Montolivo Midfielder (Fiorentina)
19. Leonardo Bonucci Defender (Juventus)
20. Sebastian Giovinco Striker (Parma)
21. Andrea Pirlo Midfielder (Juventus)
22. Alessandro Diamanti Midfielder (Bologna)
23. Antonio Nocerino Midfielder (Milan)
Euros record: Qualified Eight times. Best Winners (1968).
Croatia Fifa ranking 8
Four years ago Croatia were seconds away from reaching the Euro 2008 semi-finals. But Semih Senturk's equaliser for Turkey, and the ensuing penalty shoot-out sent Croatia home. It was nearly as traumatic as international football can be, and let to a spiral which saw them badly beaten – by Fabio Capello's England, no less – as they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
But last autumn Slaven Bilic's side had the chance for vengeance. After finishing second in their qualifying group, Croatia faced Turkey again, in the play-off to reach Euro 2012. They were not fancied, but a 3-0 victory in Istanbul followed by a goalless draw in Zagreb sent Croatia through.
This is probably not as good a side as the one of four years ago. They were far from excellent in qualifying, finishing behind Greece in their group. They have lost Niko Kovac, after a distinguished career for the national team. And Bilic, too, is leaving at the end of the tournament, to manage Lokomotiv Moscow. Whether this will inspire or distract his players is always hard to predict.
But there is definitely talent there. The best of them is Luka Modric, Tottenham Hotspur's endlessly subtle and imaginative director of midfield. Everything good comes through him. Right-back Darijo Srna is relentless and creative. Up front, too, they carry a threat: Ivica Olic is a tournament veteran and a tireless runner who can make chances for the more gifted Nikica Jelavic or Mario Mandzukic. And enough, probably, to worry Spain or Italy if it all comes together.
Manager: Slaven Bilic Intelligent and intense, the former Croatia international is coming to the end of his six-year reign in which he has reinvigorated the national side.
Tournament odds 50-1.
1. Stipe Pletikosa Goalkeeper (Rostov)
2. Ivan Strinic Defender (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)
3. Josip Simunic Defender (Dinamo Zagreb)
4. Jurica Buljat Defender (Maccabi Haifa)
5. Vedran Corluka Defender (Tottenham Hotspur)
6. Daniel Pranjic Defender (Bayern Munich)
7. Ivan Rakitic Midfielder (Sevilla)
8. Ognjen Vukojevic Midfielder (Dynamo Kiev)
9. Nikica Jelavic Striker (Everton)
10. Luka Modric Midfielder (Tottenham Hotspur)
11. Darijo Srna Midfielder (Shakhtar Donetsk)
12. Ivan Kelava Goalkeeper (Dinamo Zagreb)
13. Gordon Schildenfeld Defender (Eintracht F'furt)
14. Milan Badelj Midfielder (Dinamo Zagreb)
15. Ivo Ilicevic Midfielder (Hamburg)
16. Tomislav Dujmovic Midfielder (Real Zaragoza)
17. Mario Mandzukic Striker (Wolfsburg)
18. Ivica Olic Striker (Bayern Munich)
19. Niko Kranjcar Midfielder (Tottenham Hotspur)
20. Ivan Perisic Midfielder (Borussia Dortmund)
21. Domagoj Vida Defender (Dinamo Zagreb)
22. Eduardo Striker (Shakhtar Donetsk)
23. Danijel Subasic Goalkeeper (Monaco)
Euros record: Qualified Four times. Best Quarter-finalists (twice).
Spain Fifa ranking 1
This Spain team will already be remembered as the greatest international of a generation, after consecutive European Championship and World Cup wins. If they can win their third straight, they will surely be the best ever.
But retaining trophies is difficult, which is why it has never happened in the European Championship, and only twice in the World Cup – the last time 50 years ago. Tiredness, collectively and individually, sets in, and this will arguably be Spain's main opponent this summer.
The players have paid a price for years of intense competition. David Villa and Carles Puyol are out, Xavi and David Silva can barely play 90 minutes, Fernando Torres's troubles are well-known, while Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique have had difficult seasons.
So while their team will be excellent, it may take some very good management too from Vincente del Bosque to have them all fit and focused together. Ten years ago France arrived at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea exhausted after winning consecutive tournaments; they scored no goals and went straight home.
Del Bosque will be keenly aware of that but he must also deal with issues of balance: in recent years Spain have not scored as many goals as they might have done. With Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Silva and Andres Iniesta in the side, they might have too many passers. The recent use of Silva as a "false" centre-forward has betrayed a lack of variety. The pace of Pedro or Jesus Navas would be a useful alternative.
They are all very good, certainly, but Spain may need to sharpen up to make more history.
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque The two-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid has carried on Luis Aragones' work, building a unified, winning Spain team.
Tournament odds 11-4 favourites.
1. Iker Casillas Goalkeeper (Real Madrid)
2. Raul Albiol Defender (Real Madrid)
3. Gerard Pique Defender (Barcelona)
4. Javi Martinez Midfielder (Athletic Bilbao)
5. Juanfran Defender (Atletico Madrid)
6. Andres Iniesta Midfielder (Barcelona)
7. Pedro Rodriguez Striker (Barcelona)
8. Xavi Hernandez Midfielder (Barcelona)
9. Fernando Torres Striker (Chelsea)
10. Cesc Fabregas Midfielder (Barcelona)
11. Alvaro Negredo Striker (Sevilla)
12. Victor Valdes Goalkeeper (Barcelona)
13. Juan Mata Midfielder (Chelsea)
14. Xabi Alonso Midfielder (Real Madrid)
15. Sergio Ramos Defender (Real Madrid)
16. Sergio Busquets Midfielder (Barcelona)
17. Alvaro Arbeloa Defender (Real Madrid)
18. Jordi Alba Defender (Valencia)
19. Fernando Llorente Striker (Athletic Bilbao)
20. Santi Cazorla Midfielder (Malaga)
21. David Silva Midfielder (Manchester City)
22. Jesus Navas Midfielder (Sevilla)
23. Pepe Reina Goalkeeper (Liverpool)
Euros record: Qualified Nine times. Best Winners (twice).
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