Welcome to Day 3 of the 2012 European Football Championships, or the Euro 2012 for short. Fans have enjoyed the past two days, and this group aims to provide that and some more for you.
Croatia -Slaven Bilic will be relying on the talent of a couple of players plying in the Premiership in Tottenham's Luka Modric and Everton's Nikica Jelavic in possibly sneaking in a run in the knockout stages. In addition, players like Ivan Rakitic, Niko Kranjcar, captain Dario Srna will anchor their counterattacking 4-4-2 scheme. A veteran back four led by Vedran Corluka, Josip Simunic and Danijel Pranjic will try to parry the opposing offenses.
Ireland -We best know the Irish for as being screwed by weird circumstances, best illustrated by the Thierry Henry handball in 2010. With Giovanni Trappatoni, conservative tactics will be the norm. Offensive production will be coming from captain Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle. Shay Given is the sage veteran on goal, with veterans like John O'Shea and Richard Dunne at the back. Damien Duff and Stephen Hunt man the midfield. They do have the profile of how the Danes and the Greeks won their Euro competition, but they will be asking a lot out of a side whose some of its key players played for a team that finished last in the English Premier League.
Italy -The Azzuri have sputtered in their preparations for the Euros, losing their last three friendlies AND having to cancel an additional one due to an earthquake. Controversy has hounded the team, and it is not just because Mario Balotelli is in the roster. A match-fixing scandal has plagued the country and has already resulted in one player being removed from the lineup. Under Cesar Prandelli, they are to overwhelm their opponents via possession. The key to achieve that will be through Andrea Pirlo. The Bianconeri playmaker will have options alongside him in Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio, as well as Riccardo Montolivo. Up front, Prandelli could mix and match with the likes Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Sebastian Giovinco, Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Borini. Preventing goals will be up to captain Gigi Buffon, with Giorgio Chiellini providing additional protection/
Spain - The reigning World and European champions are primed to defend their title. They virtually have their entire team intact. However, they lose two key cogs due to injury in Carles Puyol on defense and David Villa on offense. There might be concerns of fatigue and exhaustion, as half the team come from FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, perennial Champions League contenders and La Liga powerhouses, plus players who made extensive runs into European football this season (two from Chelsea and Athletic Bilbao, one from Atletico Madrid). However, balancing such fatigue is easy when you arguably have the deepest midfield in football, handy since that midfield is what runs the tiki-taka engine, led by Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The key will be the newcomers in defense, Valencia's Jordi Alba, Atletico Madrid's Juanfran and Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez fit in the scheme of things. And then, there is Fernando Torres, the enigmatic forward.
Who advances? - Spain wins group. Italy as the runners-up.