Group C might win the title of “Most Predictable Group” for Euro 2012. It contains the world champions, Spain; the resurgent Italy, hot-and-cold Croatia, and the “braveheart” Republic of Ireland. That’s also the order in which most will predict the group will finish.
Out before it starts
Republic of Ireland. When the best adjective to describe this national team is “plucky,” you know they’re over before they’ve even started. It came down to the wire in Group B, with Ireland nearly losing out to Armenia, and the Boys in Green failing to make much of an impression until their playoff against Estonia, in which they won the first leg 4-0.
Medal of honor
Croatia really are a great side, but their inconsistency forces us to tip them for third-place finishers. They demolished Turkey in the playoffs for the group stages, yet managed to lose to a Greek side that never seems to want to score. Put them in Group A, and they’re through to the knockout round. Unfortunately, I don’t think we get to make those sorts of changes.
Advancing to the Knockout Stage are…
Italy and Spain. Do you even need reasoning? Spain are Spain. Let’s face it, if they don’t make it to the finals, it’s probably due to a new strain of plague that starts on the shores of Valencia or something. As for Italy, they might not be a spectacular squad, but they’re certainly a strong one. Provided they work out their issues with finding another forward (Pablo Osvaldo is not a good long-term solution), this will be a stroll in the piazza for the azzurri.
Player to watch
Mario Balotelli. Not only is the Italian on the verge of becoming world-class, but every match in which he plays practically guarantees some sort of spectacle. Personally, I’m rooting for another boot to Shay Given’s abdomen, followed by “Super Mario” poking the Irishman in the stomach to see if it hurts.
Fans of Italy will be intrigued by the Prandelli – Trapattoni matchup when Italy and Ireland play, but the one to watch will be Spain – Italy, played on June 10th. I really wish I could be more prosaic in our recommendations, but, geez, the match between the big two will be the most important in the group. But, hey, at least this isn’t Group A, and I can truly recommend tuning in for almost every match in Group C.