La Roja will start the tournament as the favourites to win the Championship alongside the Germans. Blessed with mercurial footballing talent and beautiful chemistry, Spain produces a brilliant brand of attacking football that is likely to outplay the opposition more often than not.
However, it has been a long season and one that has been marred with injuries to key players like David Villa and Carles Puyol who will be missing out on the Euros. Coach Vicente Del Bosque’s side will have to deal with the absence of their most influential players on the international stage in order to defend their European crown.
Despite the fact that veteran striker David Villa will miss the tournament through injury and the dwindling form of once prolific Fernando Torres, the exclusion of Robert Soldado who has had a very good season with Valencia netting 27 times has raised a lot of questions.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos are expected to be at the heart of the defense with Puyol out of the squad. Experienced campaigners Xavi, Alonso and Iniesta are expected to form the creative core of the Spanish midfield. Bilbao frontman Fernando Llorente is expected to lead the line for Spain after his impressive display for his club this season. Del Bosque will also rely on Mata and Silva to provide some of the attacking threat upfront. However, this could very well be the last chance for misfiring Fernando Torres to kick-start his career as any sort of slip up could spell an end to an otherwise glorious international career.
Italy looks like a team in transition with Coach Cesare Prandelli introducing a new style of counter attacking football to the Azzurris. Despite missing out on key players due to injuries and retirements, the Azzurris will be looking to avoid a successive elimination in the first round of the competition.
However, Italy will benefit from the blossoming partnership of Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio as the Juventus duo is likely to start alongside Danielle De Rossi at the centre of the midfield.
However, attack remains the biggest concern for Prandelli and his men. With Villarreal striker Rossi hit by a severe injury layoff, Prandelli is likely to partner Antonio Cassano alongside the controversial Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli. Veteran striker Antonio Di Natale may get the nod ahead of the inexperienced Balotelli. The likes of Giovinco will also be keen to snap up any chances that come their way especially after inspiring seasons at club level.
Italy will miss their inspirational leader Cannavaro at the heart of their defence and will look to rely on the in-form Chiellini to form a solid backline alongside Abate and Barzagli.
Italy’s chances of advancing will depend on how the Azzurris fare against weaker oppositions in Croatia and Republic of Ireland.
Croatia will look to snatch a morale boosting victory in their opening game of the group stages against Ireland in order to carry some confidence into the second game against Italy.
Coach Slaven Bilic has stressed on the fitness of his key players and has stated that in order to procure a major surprise and in order to advance; his team will need to stay injury free. Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric is expected to be the creative heart of the team who will be responsible for creating chances with his brilliance and organizing the play for the Croatians. Modric will be efficiently supported in the midfield by the likes of Ivan Perasic, Danijel Pranjic and Mario Mandzukic.
Bilic will rely on his most experienced frontman, Ivica Olic, to score the goals and take the team forward. However, the biggest problem for Croatia lies at the back. The Croatians might face heartbreaks due to the inefficiencies in the defence.
Croatia will look to sit back and hit on the counter-attack due to serious lack of pace in their midfield. As it stands, it looks like the game between Italy and Croatia in the group stage will be a ‘winner takes it all’.
Republic of Ireland
Euro 2012 is the first major international tournament Ireland has qualified in the last decade since their participation in the 2002 World cup. The tactically astute Giovanni Trappatoni is not famous for playing an attractive brand of football. However, Trappatoni’s tactical knowledge will hold the key as to how the Irish fare at the tournament against the big guns.
Richard Dunne is likely to partner former Manchester United man, John O’Shea, at the heart of the defence. Lack of talent in the central midfield and frequent changes will mean that Trappatoni will look towards his wide players to provide the incision for his team. Experienced players like Damien Duff and Aiden Mcgeady will hold the key in the midfield for the Irish. Trappatoni is likely to field two strikers upfront in the form of the reliable Kevin Doyle and veteran striker Robbie Keane.
Although fully expected to end their campaign at the bottom of their group, the grit and organisation of the Irish could well cause some problems for the superior sides in the group.