What: Euro 2012 Group C
Who: Italy vs Republic of Ireland
When: Monday 18th June, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stadium Municipal, Poznan, Poland

Playing with Fear

The Azzurri are frightened of another “biscotto” (biscuit) after the draw which occurred at Euro 2004 between Denmark and Sweden, a game that knocked out the Italians and sent both Scandinavians through. “Biscotto” is the term used in Italy to indicate a tacit pact of “non-aggression” between two sides. And it does not help when the Italian captain, Gianluigi Buffon, said a month ago about the betting scandal in the country “sometimes two injured are better than one dead”, referring to two teams that on some occasions choose to arrange a “biscotto”.

Aside from this issue, Italy must beat the Republic of Ireland in Group C and then watch for the result from Gdansk between Spain and Croatia; a 2-2 draw between those two sides would put Italy out.

In Italy’s last match, against Croatia, the Azzurri dominated for almost an hour, but missed chances through Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano; then due to an error from Giorgio Chiellini, Croatia scored a crucial equaliser.

Now, as Italy face Ireland, coach Cesare Prandelli may choose to make changes. Probably not to his defence, where Daniele De Rossi has enjoyed two excellent games as a libero, but more likely in midfield, replacing one of the two wingers – Christian Maggio or Emanuele Giaccherini – and in attack, where Antonio De Natale may play alongside both Balotelli and Cassano.

Pride at Stake

The Irish were the first side to be knocked out of Euro 2012 and now pride is on the line for the Boys in Green. Against Croatia in their opener, Giovanni Trapattoni’s men produced a poor defensive display and then, in their second match, Spain simply took Ireland apart winning 4-0. Combined with the Croatia result, that is seven goals conceded with only one scored.

Now Ireland must play for their fans (more than 25,000 at the two matches and perhaps the best supporters seen so far at Euro 2012). Trapattoni wants to get some points on the board for the journey home and, importantly, the veteran Italian does not want to be accused of helping his native country.

Trapattoni usually plays with a classic 4-4-2 and he will want to keep things tight here. Robbie Keane should get the vote up front, with perhaps James McClean getting a chance on the wing from the start.

Recent form

Italy 0-3 Russia (01/06; Friendly)
Italy 1-1 Spain (10/06; Euro 2012)
Italy 1-1 Croatia (14/06; Euro 2012)

Ireland 0-0 Hungary (05/06; Friendly)
Ireland 1-3 Croatia (10/06; Euro 2012)
Ireland 0-4 Spain (14/06; Euro 2012)

Players to watch

Italy – Claudio Marchisio: The Juventus midfielder has had two excellent matches at Euro 2012 so far, but failed to score what would have been vital goals for his team. Marchisio is a key man in the Italian engine room and, with Andrea Pirlo supporting, he can enjoy space to do damage from the centre of the park.

Republic of Ireland – James McClean:  The 23-year-old Sunderland star has many hopes placed upon his shoulders back in Ireland.  McClean got only 14 minutes against Spain, but he should get longer against the Azzurri. The winger can play on either flank and provide vital assists for Ireland’s strikers.

Match Prediction

Italy have but one job against Ireland – and that is to win. The Azzurri cannot influence what goes on between Spain and Croatia and must concentrate on their own game. Expect Prandelli to send his team out to attack and, while Ireland will try to get two banks of four to stop Italy, it is unlikely they will be effective. Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland.

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