Euro 2012 Group C: Ireland's opponents


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).

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all