Group C: Spain – Italy – Republic of Ireland – Croatia
The current Euro and World Cup holders Spain have a very good chance of retaining the trophy this summer. In goal, they have Real Madrid ‘keeper Iker Casillas who has 130 appearances under his belt. Víctor Valdés (Barcelona) and Pepe Reina (Liverpool) are nowhere near the level that Casillas is in, so I think this proves just how good Casillas is.
In defence, they have Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid. He was originally a right back for his club, but Arbeloa who is also included in Spain’s squad, pushed Ramos into a more central defensive role.
Gerard Piqué is the main man in defence, and he had a solid season for Barcelona, which saw them lose the title to rivals Real Madrid. Puyol was ruled out of this summers’ championship, so Piqué needs to really take control of the defence and set an example, as one of Spain’s more experienced heads on the field.
Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao caught the attention of a few European football clubs after his performance in this season’s Europa League, which saw Bilbao go to the final, and only to lose 3-0 versus Atletico Madrid. Martinez was very impressive, particularly in Bilbao’s two-legged victory over Manchester United.
The core of Spain’s midfield is pretty much the core of Barcelona’s. Xavi controls the midfield and spread the ball to the wide men, who are either Juan Mata (Chelsea) Jesus Navas (Seville) Pedro (Barcelona) or David Silva (Manchester City).
Andres Iniesta, who scored the winner in the World Cup final against the Netherlands (who are in group B in the Euro finals), will make bursting runs through the midfield to support Torres (Chelsea), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao) or Negredo (Seville), who have all have impressed in Spain’s qualifiers.
Sergio Busquets will be there as a defensive midfielder, breaking down opponent attacks and protecting the Spanish back four. Spain will go very far in this tournament, and they have so much quality and a variety of players to pick from, whether they go for the pace of Navas, or the strength of Llorente.
A lot of expectations are ridding on Llorente, and I think he will surprise everyone this summer.
My prediction: Winners
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina, (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona)
Defenders: Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Jordi Alba (Valencia), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)
Midfielders: Xavi (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Forwards: Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla)
Italy is an ageing squad and we all know they have lost the sharpness and perhaps the quality they once had, although they have a couple of good players coming through the ranks.
In goal, they have Captain Gianluigi Buffon, who enjoyed a great season with Juventus, which saw them crowned champions of Serie A. He has 113 caps for Italy, and is a reliable ‘keeper, however he faces severe competition from Morgan De Sanctis and Salvatore Sirigu of Napoli and PSG respectively.
In defence, they have a Juventus trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who all had had a very good season. Abate is a right back, who I personally rate very highly because of his superb defending and ability to get crosses in, he could be a real threat in this summer’s tournament. In midfield, Andrea Pirlo will probably play his last tournament for Italy as he is lacking in pace, which is vital for international games, but he still knows how to pick a pass!
Alessandro Diamanti currently plays for Bologna, but he is remembered in England for his impressive form for West Ham United in 2009, where he made 28 appearances and notching 7 goals in the process.
Mario Balotelli leads the Italian attack, and he has issued a statement regarding the Euros: ‘I will not accept racism at all. It’s unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them. …Let’s see what happens at the Euros. I hope it will pass without a problem.’
Balotelli has had a strange season for title winning side Manchester City. Last season we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Balotelli. His highlight of the season has to be scoring a goal in City’s 6-1 drubbing of Manchester United, and also proving the assist for Kun Agüero which gave City the title.
I think Italy have the quality, but they didn’t show it in their 3-0 defeat to Russia.
My prediction: 3rd in the group
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli).
Defenders: Cristian Maggio (Napoli), Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino).
Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna).
Strikers: Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Fabio Borini (Roma).
Republic of Ireland
Ireland have a reasonably strong squad, with some quality players. They will be looking forward to this summer’s European Championship, especially after their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign ended in controversy. I feel Ireland can surprise us this summer.
In goal, they have Aston Villa ‘keeper Shay Given, who had a successful spell at Manchester City a couple of seasons ago, but lost his place to England’s current number one, Joe Hart. Shay is a solid goalkeeper, and personally, one of the best in the Premier League.
In defence, they have Aston Villa centre back Richard Dunne, who also played with Given at the then City of Manchester Stadium (now Etihad Stadium). I find him incredibly reliable but he will come under pressure against the likes of Spain, Italy and Croatia, but nonetheless, he is an experienced head. Alongside him is central defender John O’Shea, who has had a breath of life under Marin O’Neil at the Black Cats.
In midfield, Republic of Ireland have former Manchester United man Darren Gibson, who found it difficult to flourish under Sir Alex Ferguson. But a transfer to David Moyes’ Everton saw him get some game time.
On the right side of Ireland’s attack, they have Damien Duff, whom I find very predictable. At times, though, he delivers some fantastic crosses, and front man Robbie Keane will be keen to get on the end of them and bag some vital goals. Also in the midfield, left footed James McClean, who also showed some terrific form under Martin O’Neil, thoroughly deserves his call-up.
Kevin Doyle will be looking to resurrect his season after the disappointment of experiencing relegation with Wolves, who managed only five wins in the league all season.
It’s quite a strong squad, and like I said earlier, could surprise a few people, and they could be a very exciting team to watch.
My Prediction: 2nd in the group.
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Aston Villa), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), David Forde (Millwall)
Defenders: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Darren O’Dea (Celtic), Stephen Ward (Wolves), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Paul McShane (Hull City)
Midfielders: Glenn Whelan (Stoke), Darron Gibson (Everton), Keith Andrews (WestBrom), Paul Green (Unattached), Damien Duff (Fulham), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Stephen Hunt (Wolves), James McClean (Sunderland)
Strikers: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Simon Cox (West Brom), Shane Long (West Brom), Jon Walters (Stoke)
Croatia have a relatively weak defence, but a stronger midfield. In goal, they have Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov). He made 91 appearances for his country. He started for the Croatia U-15 side, and made appearances in every age group since then. Pletikosa had a rather unsuccessful loan spell at Tottenham.
In defence, they have Vedran Corluka from Tottenham, but he struggled this season under Harry Redknapp.
In midfield, they have Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric, who has recently been linked with the likes of Manchester United after Tottenham’s failed Champions League bid. He will be key to set up the Croatians attacks and provide pin-point passes to the two forwards, Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich) and Nikica Jelavic (Everton).
Jelavic had a fantastic season under David Moyes, scoring 9 goals in only 13 games.
I think they will struggle at Poland and Ukraine this summer, so they will finish bottom of the group.
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Domogoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa).
Midfielders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Tomislav Dujmovic (Real Zaragoza), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg).
Forwards: Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Written by Adam May
Follow me on Twitter @Amay132