Italy – Croatia
Italy proved they are no pushovers in following their draw with Spain last Sunday, but will be looking for more than a solitary point to boost their hopes of getting out of the group. They looked good after taking the lead, but for a team which prides themselves on their defence, will be disappointed at conceding the equaliser so soon after. Croatia also showed their strengths and crushed a weak Ireland team. They can score goals, yet there have been questions about their quality of their defence, who were never really tested by Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle.
Italy lined up in a 3-5-2 formation against Spain and it worked well, the 3 center backs blocking shots and denying the Spainish forwards the time to to pass and dribble in the box. Danielle De Rossi particuary impressed and looked at home in his new position, tackling well and bringing the ball into midfield with some accurate passing. Whether or not Italy continue with a formation with 3 at the back remains another question and De Rossi may be moved into midfield where he is more natural. The strike partnership of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano also looked promising, creating chances for each other as well as attempting display their own skill. Were it not for some fine goalkeeping by Iker Casillas and Balotelli lingering too long on the ball, both could have scored. Italy also showed the depth they have in that area, bringing on Antonio Di Natale and Sebastian Giovinco, the former scoring the game’s opener. Both looked lively, and Cesare Prandelli has a tough choice to make, whether to stick with Cassano and Balotelli or twist and give Di Natale and Giovinco a game.
Croatia’s victory against Ireland was one of the most impressive performances of the first round and will want a win here, to avoid needing points against Spain in their final game. They showed the quality they have throughout team, with Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić particularly impressing, Modric dicating play and Mandzukic scroring a brace. They an in the top 10 in the world but will want to beat a more reputable team to prove they are serious about going far into knockout stages. Crucial to tonights success will be Shaktar Donetsk right back, Darijo Srna. He did well against the Irish bombing forward from deep and up against the out of position Emanuele Giaccherini he could enjoy success.
Prediction: Italy 2 – 1 Croatia
Spain – Rep. of Ireland
Spain looked decent against Italy, but never really took control of the game and showed a hunger to win. To prove doubters wrong nothing but a convincing win will do here. Ireland were more disappointing, and after being so impressive defensively in qualifying, really let themselves down against Croatia. Both teams willneed points to progress from the group and will this game promises much.
Before playing Italy there was much speculation over which striker Vincente del Bosque would choose to lead the line for them. However instead of choosing either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo, he instead went for Cesć Fabregas playing a ‘false 9’ role, dropping deep and linking up with the other midfielders rather than playing up against the defenders. This was a mixed success; despite scoring the equaliser Fabregas looked unsure of his position and was anonymous for much of the game. When Torres came on Spain instantly looked more dangerous and, had he been slightly more composed in front of goal, Torres could have scored a winner. He could well start against Ireland and if he scores, should get the confidence back to terrorise defensies like he did in the previous European Championships.
As good as Croatia were last week Ireland were really poor and will need to improve today as Spain are a significantly better side. Their best chance would be to try and replicate Chelsea’s 2-2 draw against Barcelona last season, sitting deep with all men behind the ball. Giovanni Trapattoni’s selection has hinted at something similar, with reports suggesting than striker Kevin Doyle will be dropped, and and additional midfielder in Simon Cox, will instead be selected. Whether or not this can work remains to be seen, but teams playing defensive systems playing defensive systems have done well in the competition so far, as England and Denmark have proved.
Prediction: Spain 3 – 0 Rep. of Ireland