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Euro 2012 Preview – Group C

With Euro 2012 starting on Friday in Poland and Ukraine, we continue our look at the 16 teams today focusing on Group C, which features Croatia, Ireland, Italy (four-time World Cup winners) and the world’s best team, Spain.

The Teams
Croatia (currently at No. 8 in the FIFA rankings) failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, so this is the squad’s first tournament since reaching the quarterfinals of Euro 2008.
The team is led by striker Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar, Croatia’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals who is moving to Dynamo Kyiv after the tournament.
“(Luka) is a wonderful player,” Harry Redknapp, the pair’s manager at Tottenham Hotspur, told The Daily Mail. “He has that gift of creating space out of nothing. He is also a superb example to other players, never a moment’s trouble.”
Even with their high ranking, many seem down on Croatia, which could help motivate the team.
“I cannot remember a time when people were so negative about our chances,” captain Darijo Srna told ESPN. “Our belief is when the big games come, against the best opponents, these players move to a different level.”
Ireland (ranked No. 18) has to deal with expectation at home that the team can make it out of this group, which may be a bit unrealistic given the fact the team isn’t playing its best right now.
In addition, the players are complaining that manager Giovanni Trapattoni worked them too hard during their training camp in Tuscany, a charge the manager predictably disputes.
“It was a holiday in Montecatini,” Trapattoni told The Guardian. “It was beautiful. My first concert is never to push the players too hard.”
This is Ireland’s first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup and their first appearance in the Euros since 1988. It’s also one of the last chances for captain Robbie Keane to show his stuff on the international stage. Keane scored seven goals during qualifying.
“I think as a player, and as a nation, we know it’s not going to be easy,” Keane told ESPN. “But when you’re a professional athlete, you’ve got a winning mentality and you have to into every tournament, every game believing that you’re going to win it. Are we underdogs? Yes. Do people think we’re going to win it? Of course not. As players, we have to believe that we can. Anything can happen in football.”
Italy (ranked No. 12) is sort of the wildcard in the group. They were unbeaten in group play, giving up just two goals in 10 games, led by Antonio Cassano’s six goals.
Of course, Cassno underwent heart surgery in November (he returned to training in January), defender Andrea Barzagli is out of at least the group phase with a calf injury, strike Mario Balotelli left training early with a knee or thigh problem and striker Giuseppe Rossi is not with the squad.
Throw in the fact that the Azzurri haven’t won a tournament since 2006 and that Italian officials are dealing with match-fixing investigations that led police to raid the national team’s training camp it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Italy crashes and burns in group play.
And the team never knows what they are going to get from Balotelli. Talented (13 goals in 23 Premier League games with Manchester City this year) and troubled, Balotelli is a powder keg always on the verge of exploding.
Spain (No. 1 in the world) ended a 44-year title drought by winning Euro 2008 and followed that up by winning the World Cup in 2010.
Can they become the first international squad to win three major tournaments in a row?
Spain cruised through qualification, winning all eight games with a goal-differential of +20. And even though injuries have knocked Carles Puyol and David Villa out of the tournament, the team is loaded.
From Andres Iniesta, who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, to Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas to David Silva, it’s easy to why Spain is the prohibitive favorite.
“We’re conscious of the fact that it was inevitable on paper we’d be favorites. The key to our success has been to always start from zero and respect our opponents,” Ramos told The Daily Mail. “Humility has been the base from which we have grown in these recent years.”
Another advantage for Spain is the fact that Real Madrid and Barcelona went out of the Champions League in the semifinals. As almost all of Spain’s starters come from those two club teams, the players should be more rested than usual.
Spain doesn’t have history on its side, however, as previous European champions have made a habit of going out in the group stage of the following tournament – Greece in 2008, Germany in 2000 and Denmark in 1996.
Did you Know?
Italy’s Mario Balotelli once accidentally set his mansion on fire after setting off fireworks in the bathroom?
Game to Watch
The June 14 match between Italy and Croatia could very well determine who makes it out of the group stage and who goes home early for the summer.
Who Will Advance?
Spain for sure; recent history aside they are just too talented not to make it out of the group stage. As for the second spot, Croatia seems to have the fewest question marks of the remaining three teams.
For additional coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Mail, The Guardian, EPL Talk and ESPN.

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