(Luka Modric will match up against the similarly technically gifted Spain midfielders)
7:45 pm - Spain vs Croatia
Group C's first game sees a strange situation where a 2-2 draw would guarantee that both Spain & croatia would qualify for the quarter final stage regardless of what Italy do against Ireland in the other game. Both sides are saying, of course, that they aren't going to play out the result & will be going for the win but some bookmakers seem very distrusting & have priced up 2-2 as short as 4/1! (Coral, William Hill & BetVictor)
Croatia & Spain both looked very good when playing Ireland although the way that Ireland have played doesn't say a lot, Spain went with an orthodox formation in their first game but looked much better when starting with a true forward in Fernando Torres last time. Torres bagged himself a couple of goals against Ireland & that should help settle him down after his horror show after coming on as a sub in the first game. We still aren't convinced that he's anywhere near the player he was 3 years ago & that does mean that unless Spain are creating chances at will they might struggle to score too many as they don't have quite the cutting edge of some of the other sides in the competition. Pique & Ramos are still trying to develop a partnership in central defence & they certainly miss Carlos Puyol, both full backs Alba & Arbeloa picked up bookings in the first game & that could mean a potential rest for them. If both wide defenders do start then Croatia will look to get at them, knowing they could be hesitant in challenges, & Darijo Srna was great against Italy regularly overlapping & getting down the right hand side.
Spain should be outright better in the centre of midfield although Croatia have their own master technician in Modric, if the game is played as competitively as both teams say it will then we will wee Croatia look to concede plenty of possession & hit on the break & they could have some success. Mario Mandzukic has eventually started to find some scoring form for his country & Nikica Jelavic's physical presence should unsettle some of the cultured Spanish players. We think the draw has a big chance of happening here & that 2-2 shouldn't be discounted, Sportingbet go a standout 7/1 but we think a small play on Croatia on the draw no bet market at 9/2 on the exchanges is the way to go. Spain looked like they could get caught at times by Italy & Croatia outplayed the same opponents in the second half last time which suggests they should be competitive, we don't want to take anything from either sides' game against Ireland.
(Italy's Claudio Marchisio could bag himself a goal against the porous Irish defence)
7:45 pm - Italy vs Republic of Ireland
In the other game Italy will be looking to stick a few goals past the already eliminated Ireland as they look to put themselves in a position to qualify, Ireland have been dreadful but the only change they're going to make for the final game is bringing back Kevin Doyle to the starting lineup, which can hardly be pushed as too much of a positive as he's been poor for club & country for a long time. Trapattoni must be very disappointed by his players, they aren't the greatest but their displays so far have been below the levels required & even dependable figures have let him down, including goalkeeper Shay Given who looks to be a fading force.
Italy look like they may drop the misfiring Balotelli, but seemingly not for his ineffective displays & instead because of a knee injury, Di Natale should now get his chance & he's speedy even at 34 & could embarrass the lumbering Irish defenders. Andrea Pirlo has been their outstanding player, as we flagged up pre-tournament, & he should be given plenty of opportunities to thread the ball through to Di Natale & Cassano. Claudio Marchisio has been getting forward at times & we reckon the 11/2 available for him to score at anytime could be a decent play, he's only one goal for Italy so far but scored ten goals for Juventus last season & they should go with a very attacking mentality here.
We were really impressed with Italy in their first game against Spain & they looked pretty good against Croatia in the first half too but then went negative in the second half & paid the price by conceding & only getting a draw. Cesare Prandelli really should have learnt his lesson for the rest of the tournament & he can start off by setting his team to go on an all out offensive against Ireland here, odds of 10/11 for Italy to win with a -1 goal handicap seem very big & we're going to back heavily, we can see a bigger margin than two goals opening up with Ireland having nothing but pride to play for.
Croatia to beat Spain on the draw no bet market at 9/2 (Betfair)
Italy to beat Ireland with -1 goal at 10/11 (SkyBet)
Claudio Marchisio to score at anytime at 11/2 (SkyBet)