Group C, just like Group B, has a very interesting constellation with two soccer giants in Italy and Spain, a team that nobody likes to play because of it’s strengths (Croatia) and the total underdog in Ireland.
The preconditions before game 2 were very apparent. Croatia was the only team going into the match with three points on the table. While Spain and Italy played a 1:1 draw, it was Ireland that had to bounce back from that 1:3 loss.
Italy and Croatia opened up the day of games with offensive-minded play and some beautiful soccer on both sides. Just as in game 1, Italy showed it’s new 3-5-2 philosophy by head coach Cesare Prandelli. The Italians looked to gain control of the match early and put pressure on the Croatian team that lurked for counter-attacks over their star midfielder Luka Modric from Tottenham Hotspurs.
It was a hard-fought match on both sides that finally fell victim to a common wisdom in soccer: “it will have dire consequences if you don’t use your chances to score a goal.”
The main protagonist of this dramatic fact was Italian striker Mario Balotelli from the English Premier League Champion Manchester City who, like against Spain, missed out on several chances to bring his squad into the lead. Despite Balotelli’s short-comings, it was Italy that scored first on a beautiful free-kick by Juventus Turin’s Andrea Pirlo. The Croatians however got out of half-time more actively, pursuing the equalizer against an Italian team that fell back to their old habits of administrating a slim 1:0 lead, which ultimately doomed them.
A fatal mistake by Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini brought the equalizer for Croatia on a brilliant goal by Mario Mandzukic, the man who already scored twice in the opener versus Ireland. Cesare Prandelli’s team was not able to step-up their game, mostly because all strikers including the mentioned Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and the substituted Antonio Di Natale were ineffective against the disciplined defense of Croatia. Italy could look back at the multiple chances they had to grab the victory.
Slaven Bilic’s team is in a formidable position to reach the next round, having to play the reigning European Champion Spain on Monday, which played the second game of this match-day versus Giovanni Trapattoni’s Irish national team.
The Irish wanted to bring the upset versus a Spanish team that lacked a needed killer-instinct in game 1. Head coach Vicente del Bosque brought FC Chelsea striker Fernando Torres from beginning this time and benefited in the 4th minute as the heavily criticized striker scored the match’s first goal. The early blowback completely devastated Ireland’s strategy to counter-attack the superior Spaniards, having to open up and play more offensively. Spain had it’s way with the Irish and scored three more goals over the stretch of the 90 minutes.
Spain proved that it is capable of reaching the final again after they won it in 2008 simply because of their brilliant offense.
Spain and Croatia lead the table with 4 points each after two games, followed by Italy (2 points) and Ireland (0 points), that became the first team to be mathematically eliminated. If the Squadra Azzurra wins versus Ireland on Monday while either Croatia or Spain wins too, Italy will advance. A draw between the two leading teams would result in a comparison of the goal difference and even the direct comparison between the teams and how they played each other.
Group C will be one of the most intriguing groups to follow as three teams are battling for advancing to the semifinals. It is also very precarious that former Italian national coach and legend Giovanni Trapattoni decides the fate of his country’s team as Ireland could potentially upset Italy on match-day 3.
Tonight, you have to mention the whole Spanish team when you look at the top performers. The 4:0 victory was a team effort while only Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic stood out with their goals. Luka Modric, who gets hyped by the media as a potential candidate to become the best player in the tournament, was quiet versus Italy today. He will be in the focus on Monday in a deciding game versus Spain.