Four Players Ready to take Euro 2012 by Storm: Group C
Written for www.caughtoffside.com
The best of the best from Group C.
Group C is an intriguing one, the obvious choices to progress are Spain and Italy.
Ireland will be no pushovers, with the running and work ethic of Kevin Doyle they will have to be hard to break down and make the most of their set pieces.
Croatia have a determined squad who when on top form are more than a match for anyone.
The holders Spain are without doubt the best in the world, their football is exciting, entertaining and their off the ball movement is far better than any other team national team I have ever seen. Put simply it would be a shock if they didn’t reach the final, which only goes to show how good they are.
Interestingly Italy defeated the current World and European champions 2-1 in a friendly back in August. Take what you will from that after England’s recent victory against Spain.
Italy’s last tournament success came in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where defensive stalwarts Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro lead the team to glory. The centre back partnership was the best around, conceding just two goals in the tournament meant proved to be the solid foundation for success. While Italy were not the most entertaining they were certainly the most effective in probably the dullest tournament of recent years.
This should be a tighter group than most think. Spain should have top spot nailed on, though if Italy don’t get firing from the off, Croatia and Ireland will be ready to pounce.
Italy – Riccardo Montolivo
You need to go back as far as 1968 for the Azzurri’s last European Championship crown. The emphasis from the good ship safety has sailed to a more attacking and vibrant Italian outfit, though Cesare Prandelli’s team willno doubt be as unpredictable as their Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli.
With Antonio Cassano no doubt missing, I am excited by the prospect of Giuseppe Rossi in the Italian front line should he earn a starting berth.
Italy have some excellent forwards capable of interchanging throughout a game with Balotellie, Rossi, Pazzini, Pepe all in contention for starting places. Add the experience of Marco Borriello and Alberto Gilardino to the mix and they have a serious chance of achieving something.
With so much attaching talent at their disposal Prandelli’s side need to be responsible defensively and also in the build up of attacking play. That’s where Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo comes in.
Montolivo is in the same mould as the great Andrea Pirlo, very comfortable on the ball in acting as a deep-lying playmaker. If Pirlo remains fit and takes up his natural deep-lying role then Montolivo will be pushed further up the pitch into a more natural advanced position.
Prandelli managed Montolivo at Fiorentina and he will know that the technically gifted and influential midfielder is capable of acting as the Italian Clarence Seedorf for the Azzurri.
Montolivo is in the last year of his contract at Fiorentina so the tournament will be a massive advertisement for his services. Pretty much every Champions League club will have an eye on Montolivo next Summer and at only 26 the midfielder has his best years to come.
Spain – Andres Iniesta
Everyone knows how good this Spanish team is. They are without question the greatest international team of my generation.
They are on a different wavelength to anyone else playing the game and should they click on any given game they are brutally clinical.
Spain’s record goalscorer David Villa suffered a broken leg in the World Club Cup playing for Barcelona. The forward is a doubt for the tournament and faces a race to be fit.
Without Villa, Spain are a little light in terms of a central forward capable of drifting into the flanks. Fernando Llorente isn’t known for his movement and acts as a more central target figure which no longer suits the way Spain play their football.
Fernando Torres is struggling to get in the Chelsea team at the moment and when he does he can’t hit the proverbial barn door. Early 2012 is a massive time for Torres, it will either break his international and domestic hopes of appearing regularly or propel him into the limelight as Spain’s centre forward.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Vincente del Bosque playing three “tiki-taka” forwards in David Silva, Pedro and Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta will be pivotal to Spain’s success if Villa or Torres don’t make it. His balance, vision and creativity aid his movement which in a small frontline is vital. With fellow La Masia graduates Sergio Busquets and Xavi playing a little deeper he will rely on the club understanding to drop into space to receive the ball.
What Iniesta also has in his locker is a fantastic eye for goal. His finishing ability is excellent and by pushing him further up the pitch he can influence the game a much as he does at club level for Barcelona.
Republic of Ireland – Shay Given
After comprehensively beating Estonia in the Euro 2012 playoffs, the memories of THAT handball by Thierry Henry will have been banished, for now at least.
Ireland have Giovanni Trapattoni to thank for their qualification. The Italian has done an excellent job with the Irish and has worked wonders given the resources at his disposal.
Trapattoni was rightly rewarded with a new two-year contract following the countries qualification for the tournament.
Trapattoni will have a bit of a point to prove after managing Italy a decade ago. The Ireland boss comes up against his home nation and hope the experienced players in his squad can defy the odds and snatch second place in the group.
Shay Given holds the record for most Irish international caps and will be very busy in the three group games. Given is a fantastic ‘keeper who really deserves some success in his club career. There aren’t many better shot stoppers around and his club connection to defender Richard Dunne will be crucial.
The spine of the Irish squad holds a wealth of experience and they are a group that have played together for years. Given along with Damien Duff, Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Keane all appeared in Ireland’s last tournament appearance in 2002 in Korea and Japan.
Ireland have to be realistic in their expectations. They have been handed a tough group but should look to avoid bottom spot. If they can pick up a win in their first game against Croatia then you never know.
Croatia – Ivan Rakitic
Like Ireland Croatia also progressed through the playoffs, a magnificent 3-0 away victory in Turkey proved to be enough to see them through to Poland and Ukraine.
Slaven Bilic is a top manager and one I would love to see come back to the Premier League as a manager. He has a good squad of players to work with, stand out players like Luka Modric, Darijo Srna and Josip Simunic are key to their success.
Modric is as key to Croatia as he is to Tottenham Hotspur, the little midfielder is given freedom of the midfield to pick the ball up deep and keep Blic’s side ticking.
Though it is one of Modric’s fellow midfielders I will be looking out for. Sevilla’s talented midfilder Ivan Rakitic has the makings of a star.
Rakitic is as two-footed as they come, deadly around the edge of the box and also crafty out wide. The midfielder is still only 23 and plays in a similar mature way to Modric. Rakitic isn’t afraid to put his foot in when lying deep in the midfield, he is also intelligent enough to work responsibly alongside Modric and fellow Spurs midfielder Niko Kranjcar.
Expect big things from him in the next few years.