After managing to accumulate only two points their first two games, Italy go into the match against Ireland knowing only a win will do. The Italians have been quite unfortunate to not win any of their first two games, despite having played rather impressively. On the other hand, Ireland have already been eliminated after an uninspired run in the tournament having lost both their preceding fixtures and now play for pride rather than progression in the tournament.
The Italian team has been shrouded in controversy due to recent match fixing allegations back home in the Serie A, and two of their squad are currently under investigation. Progression to the quarters would not only mean redemption for the team, but also provide a much-needed distraction from the disturbing events unfolding back home.
The Italians put in a rather good performance in their first match of the competition against tournament favorites Spain, even outplaying them at times. Their efforts were rewarded in the second half when Di Natale fired them into the lead, within three minutes of being sent on in the second half. However, they were unable to build on the lead and Spain got back into the game through a goal from Fabregas. Italy were expecting full points from their match against Croatia, in which once again the Azzuri were impressive, completely dominating the game in the first half and were rewarded by a stunning free kick by veteran Andrea Pirlo. Once again they failed to build on the lead owing to Balotelli’s lack of form and ended up conceding to Mandzukic due to a rare defensive error.
Ireland go into today’s match with nothing to lose. Having failed to impress so far, the Irish will be desperate to obtain a favorable result to at least take away some positives back home from their time in the tournament. They came into the tournament full of expectation having been unbeaten in their previous 14 matches under Trapattoni, but failed to deliver the goods when it mattered most. The Irish were severely hammered in both their opening fixtures losing 3-1 and 4-0 to Croatia and Spain respectively. This could also be keeper Shay Given’s final performance for the Greens, as he is contemplating retirement from international football.
Head to Head Record
Italy have been unable to secure a victory in their last three games against the Irish. The two teams played out two draws in ’09 during the World Cup qualifiers, while Ireland got the better of the Azzuri, defeating them 2-0 in an international friendly in June 2011. Despite the poor results, the Italians are still favored to win.
Possible Lineups and Formations
Mario Balotelli might miss out on the match, having picked up a knee injury during Saturday’s training session, in which case Di Natale will partner Cassano in attack. Also, Barzagli will be back in defense after missing out in the first two matches due to a thigh injury. The Italians are likely to revert to a 4-4-2 formation that will enable them to make swift runs down the flanks and feed their strikers. The Ireland defense will be under constant pressure, as Andrea Pirlo will employ all his guile in order to crack them open. On the opposite end, it seems quite unlikely that Italy will concede a goal. Ireland definitely have some firepower in the likes of Keane, Duff and Whelan, but are unlikely to break the resolve of the Azzuri defense.
Def- Maggio, Bonnuci, Brazagli, Chiellini
Mid- De Rossi, Marchisio, Pirlo, Giaccherini
For- Di Natale, Cassano
Def- O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward
Mid- Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady
For- Keane, Long
The importance of this match cannot be stressed enough for Italy. If the Italians lose or draw, they stand no chance of progressing irrespective of the result of the Spain-Croatia game, as both of those teams stand on four points while Italy have managed only two. A win for the Azzuri would get their total up to five and see them qualify to the next round if the match between Spain and Croatia is won by either team. If Spain and Croatia play out a draw and Italy win, it will go down to goal difference, which Prandelli’s side will look to avoid as Spain already have a four goal advantage over them while the Croats have two. Therefore, in this situation, Italy need to outscore Ireland by three goals to be absolutely certain.
Italy 2-0 Ireland
Ireland are unlikely to break a determined Italian defense while Italy should be able to score at least two goals if they continue to play like they did in the first half of both their previous two matches, even if Balotelli misses the match.