Today at Euro 2012: Croatia v Spain; Italy v Republic of Ireland

 

Croatia v Spain

There were two spectres hovering over the Croatia team as they trained under sullen skies in the PGE Arena in Gdansk yesterday. The first, expressed continually in the Italian media, was that they would contrive to draw 2-2 with Spain tonight, allowing both sides to qualify for the quarter-finals at Italy's expense.

The second was that there would be a repeat of the racism directed at Italy's Mario Balotelli during Thursday's 1-1 draw in Poznan, which has led to the Croatian FA being charged by Uefa – who may impose the same suspended six-point penalty that will hang over Russia for the next four years, following violence by their supporters in Wroclaw.

The first, said coach Slaven Bilic, was an absurd suggestion, though he took the racism threat rather more seriously. "I would say to the Italian people: 'Trust us'," he said. "If it is 2-2, it is 2-2; that is not such an unusual score. It is not as if we would have to draw 7-7. That would be strange.

"Racism is a big problem in Europe and around the world. Not even as a football manager, but as a Croatian, a parent, a sportsman and a person who lives in a modern, open-minded state, I am very disappointed by this. Everyone is welcome in our country. I don't like these kind of supporters and nor do our players. We are angry at these couple of crazy supporters and we have to put the sanctions in place that will stop them forever."

Should any punishment arise, Bilic will not be around to endure them, since he has accepted a lucrative offer to manage Lokomotiv Moscow once the tournament is over. Not many would bet when that would be. Bilic has always predicted that, if his team managed to escape Group C, they could go a very long way. "We have always played better against the better teams and now we are up against the best in the world," he said. "For this generation of Croatian footballers, this is the game of their lives."

Spain, Bilic said, "had shown two faces in this tournament" and it was the one they displayed in the opening fixture against the Italians that interested him most. "We learned something from that," he said. "We have to play against Spain as the Italians did because they caused them problems." Nevertheless, Vicente del Bosque is likely to start with Fernando Torres, something he did not do in the opening fixture.

Probable teams

Croatia: 1 PLETIKOSA, 11 SRNA, 5 CORLUKA, 13 SCHILDENFELD*, 2 STRINIC, 7 RAKITIC, 8 VUKOJEVIC, 10 MODRIC*, 20 PERISIC, 17 MANDZUKIC, 9 JELAVIC

Spain: 1 CASILLAS, 18 ALBA*, 3 PIQUE, 15 RAMOS, 17 ARBELOA*, 14 ALONSO*, 16 BUSQUETS, 6 INIESTA, 8 XAVI, 21 SILVA, 9 TORRES

*misses next match if booked

Kick-off 7.45pm, Gdansk (BBC1) Ref W Stark (Ger) Odds: Croatia 7-1 Draw 7-4 Spain 8-11

Italy v Republic of Ireland

Italy know that a victory tonight is a minimum requirement against a team that has conceded seven goals in two matches. Even that might not be enough. Should Croatia and Spain draw, Italy would be at the mercy of goal difference.

After two 1-1 draws so far, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is considering moving from a 3-5-2 system to 4-3-1-2. Daniele De Rossi would move back into midfield from centre-back, with Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti at full-back. Mario Balotelli's patchy form and knee injury mean he will probably lose his place up front to Antonio Di Natale, who scored a brilliant goal against Spain.

Damien Duff will captain Ireland for his 100th cap while Giovanni Trapattoni will bring Kevin Doyle back in for Simon Cox up front.

Probable teams

Italy: 1 BUFFON, 7 ABATE, 15 BARZAGLI, 3 CHIELLINI*, 6 BALZARETTI, 16 DE ROSSI, 21 PIRLO, 8 MARCHISIO, 22 DIAMANTI, 11 DI NATALE, 10 CASSANO

Ireland: 1 GIVEN, 3 WARD, 2 ST LEDGER*, 5 DUNNE, 4 O'SHEA, 7 McGEADY, 8 ANDREWS*, 6 WHELAN*, 11 DUFF, 9 DOYLE, 10 KEANE*

*misses next match if booked

Kick-off 7.45pm, Poznan (BBC3) Ref C Cakir (Tur) Odds: Italy 3-10 Draw 9-2 Republic of Ireland 10-1

Not another 2-2: Italy fear repeat

Italy need to win to progress, but even if they do, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia will knock them out. It is an invidious position, but even more so given that Italy were knocked out of Euro 2004 in exactly the same way, when Denmark and Sweden drew 2-2 to make it out of the group. The winner between Spain and Croatia tonight will top the group, while the loser would also go through if Italy drop points.

Player to watch: Claudio Marchisio, Italy

A strong Juventus has always meant a strong Italy, and so it is with the spine of this side. The Italian champions provide the goalkeeper, the three best centre-backs and the two-chambered heart of the midfield: not just Andrea Pirlo but also Claudio Marchisio.

It certainly helps having players that know each other. Pirlo only arrived at Juventus last summer but instantly reached an instinctive understanding with Marchisio. For Juventus his job is to reach the parts of the pitch that the 33-year-old genius cannot. Marchisio bounds up and down, making tackles, making runs, making the space Pirlo needs to paint his masterpieces. It clearly works: Juve won their first Serie A title since 2003.

The Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, unsurprisingly, has aped Juventus, abandoning his preferred 4-3-1-2 for their 3-5-2. Pirlo and Marchisio come into midfield, joined by Thiago Motta. And so far it has worked very well. Spain were surprised by Italy's brave, purposeful style. While the Spanish midfielders passed the ball between themselves, Marchisio drove through the middle, leading Italy's attacks.

But Marchisio is not just a runner. In the first half against Croatia the 26-year-old was very accomplished, impressing with his footwork and shooting – he went close to scoring more than once.

The breadth of Marchisio's skills recalls his hero Steven Gerrard. Like Gerrard, Marchisio is a local boy and one-club man. He grew up as a Juventus fan and has just completed his sixth first-team season. They hope he can be their Daniele De Rossi. So far he is doing well enough.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal