Monday, 18 June 2012

Italy in must win situation

Italy's story of Euro 2012 so far has been a tale of two draws - one heralded, one lamented.

 After earning plaudits for their enterprising 1-1 stalemate with world champions Spain in their opening game, the same team and the same tactics were far less celebrated when they were held to the same scoreline by Croatia.

 Cesare Prandelli's 3-5-2 formation operated fluently for a game-and-a-half until Slaven Bilic's tactical tinkering at the interval halted its momentum, blunting Italy's wing backs and forcing them deeper into their own half.

 Despite some efficient forward movement, they have registered only two goals - the last an expertly taken free-kick from the evergreen Andrea Pirlo.

 His midfield prompting has been one of the shining lights of Prandelli's operation so far.

 Neither Antonio Cassano nor Mario Balotelli has found the net, despite a steady trickle of chances falling their way.

 But there is hope for a better goals return against Ireland, who have provided the leakiest defence at the tournament.

 Italy must win their final game to stand any chance of making the last eight. If they do gain three points, and there is a decisive result in Spain's clash with Croatia, they'll qualify in second.

 If they win and the other game ends in a draw it gets complicated.

 If Spain v Croatia ends 0-0, Italy go through with Spain. If it finishes 1-1 it will come down to goal difference.

 If Spain and Croatia serve up a 2-2 draw, they will both go through and Italy will head home. Conspiracy theories have swiftly been denounced by both camps. 

That Ireland have become the Group C whipping boys will serve as a major embarrassment to coach Giovanni Trapattoni, whose parsimonious approach during qualifying had seen them develop into a solid defensive unit. 

They have conceded seven in their opening two games and have one single mission in Poznan - to restore pride.

 As ever, if major tournaments were decided on fan following, Ireland would have multiple honours; it is imperative their ageing team provides a scrap of dignity for their faithful supporters before they return to the Emerald Isle.

 Trapattoni has named the same team that lined up against Croatia, sticking by the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Shay Given despite the criticism that has come their way - most of it from former stalwart Roy Keane.

 Given that it has taken Ireland ten years to qualify for a major tournament, this clash has more than a hint of swansong about it.

 Despite fans clamouring for James McClean's inclusion, the veteran coach has opted to retain Aiden McGeady.

 Should Ireland slump again, without the Sunderland winger seeing a significant slice of action, Trapattoni will feel their wrath.

 Ireland need to offer something to avoid their Euro 2012 campaign going down as a bone fide disaster, albeit in what was a vicious group. 

Italy player to watch: Antonio Cassano. 

It has been a case of nearly but not quite for the mercurial striker at Euro 2012 - his controversial aside about homosexuals making more headlines than his performances on the pitch.

 But there is a sense Cassano is nearing top form, as his first half showing against Croatia suggested. 

The Milan forward can expect more room in which to operate in against Ireland and must utilise it properly if he is to finally make the big impact many expected from him before the tournament began. 

Ireland player to watch: Robbie Keane Ireland's captain has had to feed on scraps in the tournament so far, with Ireland's creative players reduced to mere bystanders during the defeat to Spain.

 Unlike some of his colleagues, he has rejected talk of international retirement, so a demonstration that he is still able to cut it on such a glittering stage would be timely before Ireland's World Cup qualification campaign begins. Key Battle: Andrea Pirlo v Keith Andrews.

 With respect, a mismatch in terms of ability, but Andrews - and midfield colleague Glenn Whelan - must get close to Pirlo to stunt his expansive range of passing.

 Croatia afforded the 33-year-old time and space in the first half of their match and paid the price, but profited in the second when they made sure he was shackled. Andrews must do the same if Ireland are to prosper.


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