Skip to content

Champions, titans, and … some other game: Sunday’s Euro 2012 playlist

Jun 10, 2012, 2:28 AM EDT

Spain's midfielder Xavi Hernandez gives Getty Images

Spain, coming off their win at South Africa 2010, open their European title defense against Italy. And there’s another game, but I can’t remember who’s playing. While I figure that out, let’s talk about the main event, which just so happens to be the day’s first game (12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN).

No team has won three major championships in a row, but Spain’s on the brink. They took Euro 2008 (their first major title since 1964) and followed it by 1-0’ing their way to their first world title. Come Sunday, they’ll be without the leading scorer and best defender, but after a perfect qualifying cycle, many are still picking the world’s top-rated team to retain their title.

They’re the type of expectations people used to have of Italy, but not any more. After a disappointing Euro 2008 and failing to get out of their group in South Africa, Italy’s had to acclimatize to life as second-tier power. Cesare Prandelli replaced Marcelo Lippi with the hope that he’d usher in the next era of Italian soccer. Goalless since Nov. 11, Italy’s future’s still out of reach.

Much of the hype surrounding the match up is based on history. Spain’s the biggest name in international soccer right now, while Italy’s won five major titles hint there’s some, eternal, ever-lasting quality to their game. But that quality’s produced only one win in the last two major tournaments (in fairness, they’ve only lost twice, too). They did dominate their qualifying group, a group in which Estonia finished second.

Oh, and it turns out, the second game of the day is pretty darn good. In fact, there’s a chance it may be the more competitive of the two. Both Croatia and the Republic of Ireland have legitimate chances of coming out of this group.

It may not be the group of death, but Group C is might be the most difficult to predict.

I’ll have my picks in the live blog, which will go up later today. We’ll also have recaps, a day three review, and oh yeah: All your tournament information here.

For now, let’s get to your Euro 2012 Sunday playlist:

source:  Side 1: Things we’ve lost

1. No clue who I’ll miss more

Carles Puyol’s 99 caps would make him the most experienced player in Spain’s back line, in addition to its best. Having undergone knee surgery in May, Puyol moves to the stands to join David Villa (pictured, above), whose comeback from a December shin fracture couldn’t return him in time for Euro. His 51 goals is not only Spain’s all-time record, it’s 23 more than Spain’s next most-prolific scorer.

That scorer is Fernando Torres. If you haven’t heard, the Chelsea striker hasn’t been very good for some time now. He only scored six times in the English Premier League last season, and with Spain over the last 20 months, he’s only scored twice. This would be a significant problem for any team, but for Spain – a team that relied on Villa for five of their eight World Cup goals – it’s red alert.

At the back, only Gerard Pique will be starting in the same position he played in South Africa. Sergio Ramos moves from right back to the middle, Alvaro Arbeloa takes over on the right, while Jordi Alba has ascended to first choice left back.

The defense should be fine. The attack, though has never recovered from the changes Vicente del Bosque implemented after he took over for Luis Aragones (post-Euro 2008). He went to a double pivot, injecting Xabi Alonso into the team at the expense of David Silva. Silva’s back in the XI (thanks in part to Villa’s absence), but Spain’s still playing with fewer attackers than they should.

2. Hard to know how far we’ve come

Another major problem for Spain: Miles. How many miles have Barcelona’s stars – Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets – accumulated over the last five years? How about Alonso for Real Madrid? That’s Spain’s entire engine room.

Long club seasons with little rest. Deep runs in all competitions. A national team competing for everything it can. There’s a price to pay for that. It’s unclear whether Spain can put it off for another tournament.

source:  3. 4 to 3

Italy’s set to go three at the back, the only team in the tournament to try it. Daniele de Rossi (pictured, right), normally a deep lying midfielder, looks set to play with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Christian Maggio and (surprisingly) Emanuele Giaccherini are set to start as wing backs.

The formation gives Prandelli three in men in the middle along with the ability to play five at the back (or have the wing backs track released fullbacks, when needed). Midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be relied upon to make the connections with forwards Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, who will have their hands full dealing with Spain’s pressure while they wait for their packed in teammates to transition into attack.

Who knows if it will work, but with de Rossi in defense, Italy will have one more player capable of holding the ball, preserving whatever possession they can keep from the Spaniards.

4. Mario

Mario Balotelli was controversially left off the 2010 World Cup squad. Controversy saw Balotelli leave Italy, and controversy followed him to Manchester City. Clearly, it’s hard to separate Marion Balotelli from controversy.

Here are a couple of uncontroversial things about Mario Balotelli: He’s as talented as anybody in this tournament, and Italy needs him. They have nobody in their squad that’s scored more than 10 international goals.

Whatever excuse Marcelo Lippi had for excluding Balotelli in 2010, it’s is gone. There are no more excuses.

source: Getty ImagesSide 2: B-sides and demos

5. Come and get me

Ireland is the easiest team in the tournament to predict, and coach Giovanni Trapattoni doesn’t bother hiding it. The Republic’s head coach didn’t bother naming a preliminary roster (going straight to the final team, which has since changed). He also revealed his starting lineup earlier this week.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Whatever combination of players Trapattoni uses will play the same way. It will be 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. They’ll sit very deep, stay compact, and value organization above opportunity.

Which is not to say that don’t value opportunity. They’re just very big on organization, which is why when they do get forward, it’s going to have to be on the backs of Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane (pictured, above). If the forwards can bring wide midfielders Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff into the play, so be it.

That, however, is all frosting for Ireland. They allowed only seven goals (in 10 games) in qualifying. They only scored 15. Their priorities are clear.

6. Deciding if I want to go

Slaven Bilic recently described his team’s propensity to sit deep and rely on the counter as a a necessity. The Croatian defense is slow, and the midfield can’t leave it exposed. With Luka Modric distributing from the middle, Croatia can rely on one of the world’s best passers to manage their transitions.

But how does that work against a team that don’t come get you? Trappatoni is not going to let Ireland get out of their game just because Croatia wants to play another. They’ll wait out Croatia, and when Bilic changes to go for the points, Ireland will hit them.

Croatia need to have a more progressive mindset from the get go. They will undoubtedly have been working on it this week, with Bilic having said he both expected a win and doesn’t see Ireland as a threat.

source: Getty Images7. My star is burning out

Croatia’s biggest concern isn’t their opponent. It’s the fitness of their star.

Luka Modric came into camp warn down by a demanding English Premier League season. Bilic has tried to nurse him back to health, holding him out of the teams’ two pre-tournament friendlies.

There many be no team as dependent on one player as Croatia. That includes Sweden, who have gotten results without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While it’s possible Croatia could still get out of Group C without a fit Modric, there’s no way they can make a meaningful run.

8. Forgetting what we never knew

Spain and Italy are in big letters on top of the marquee. When you drive by, you don’t even see the small print at the bottom, though they may put on a better show.

No, Croatia and Ireland are unlikely to provide as much entertainment as their big name group-mates, but the game looks closer on paper. Where Spain could post a multi-goal result on Italy, the day’s second game is unlikely to be worse than a one-goal affair.

And beyond Sunday’s game, Croatia and Ireland each have a good chance of getting out of group. With Ireland’s style and discipline, it’s not hard to imagine them catching one team and getting to five points. On the other hand, Croatia is favored to beat Ireland, and they’ve never lost to Italy.

It’s a bit sad Italy’s been allowed to overshadow Croatia and Ireland. It’s unfair to Italy, putting excessive expectations on a decent team, and it certainly undersells the group’s “underdogs.”
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 0-3 Vancouver Whitecaps (video)

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:02 AM EDT

    Pa Modou Kah, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Pa Modou Kah, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

    That’s 7 losses in 8 games for the Sounders. Meanwhile, the ‘Caps go top of the West.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Houston Dynamo (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT

    Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City

    Another Royal Rumble between old rivals. While the rest of MLS went goal-crazy, these two did what they always do.

  3. MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 5-2 Columbus Crew SC (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT

    Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

    The goals floweth over in MLS tonight. Cyle Larin scored his second straight brace for Orlando City.

  4. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 6-4 Real Salt Lake (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT

    Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United

    D.C. United and RSL combined for 10 goals at RFK Stadium Saturday night. Let the video do the talking.

  5. Premier League friendly roundup: Man City lose in Germany, Liverpool win in Finland

    Aug 1, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT

    Manchester City vs. VfB Stuttgart Manchester City vs. VfB Stuttgart

    The Premier League season is here…almost. The final week of preseason has begun.

  6. Wolfsburg, PSG knock off Bayern Munich, Lyon in German, French Super Cups (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT

    VfL Wolfsburg, 2015 German Super Cup champions VfL Wolfsburg, 2015 German Super Cup champions

    The new seasons in Germany and France are underway following an afternoon full of Super Cup action.

  7. Ex-Mexico manager Miguel Herrera in hot water yet again, this time for political tweets

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT

    Miguel Herrera, Mexico Miguel Herrera, Mexico

    It’s not been the greatest week of Miguel Herrera’s life. He’s in legal trouble yet again.

  8. MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-3 Montreal Impact (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    Laurent Ciman & Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact FC Laurent Ciman & Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact FC

    Another wild afternoon at Yankee Stadium ends in defeat for NYCFC. Pirlo made his first MLS start and Lampard made his MLS debut.

  9. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Tottenham Hotspur

    Aug 1, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT

    tottenham.crest

    Can Spurs crack the top four? Or will it be another season on the outside looking in at White Hart Lane?

  10. Can Arsene Wenger end his 13-match winless streak against Jose Mourinho?

    Aug 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-ARSENAL Getty Images

    Wenger has never beaten Mourinho before, but he’ll have a chance to do so tomorrow in the Community Shield.

  11. Brendan Rodgers says $50 million for Christian Benteke was a bargain

    Aug 1, 2015, 12:56 PM EDT

    Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke Getty Images

    Rodgers better hope his “bargain” buy scores a lot of goals for Liverpool this season.

  12. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Swansea City

    Aug 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    swansea.crest

    Coming off of their best-ever Premier League finish, Garry Monk has the Swans thinking about bringing European football to Wales.

  13. Brazilian Fred tested positive for banned substance at Copa America

    Aug 1, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT

    FBL-UKR-SHAKHTA-FRED Getty Images

    He still played in Shakhtar’s Champions League match this week, which could cause his club some troubles.

  14. Saturday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Berbatov to Villa, Rahman to Chelsea

    Aug 1, 2015, 10:07 AM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-ARSENAL-MONACO Getty Images

    Is Dimitar Berbatov on his way back to the Premier League? All the latest gossip, right here.

  15. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Watford

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT

    watford.crest

    In both of Watford’s two seasons in the Premier League, the club finished in last place. Can the newly promoted Hornets avoid relegation the third time around?

  16. West Ham’s Enner Valencia suffers “significant” injury, no timetable for return

    Aug 1, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT

    West Ham United v Astra - UEFA Europa League Getty Images

    A big blow for the Hammers as the Premier League kicks off a week from today.

  17. Manchester United, adidas unveil kits with “smashing” photos

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT

    man-fb-mata_3331957

    The leaked images of United’s kit were the real McCoy, and the Red Devils white-cuffed kits are pretty sharp.

  18. Pep Guardiola on final year of contract: “Not completely convinced” he’s right for Bayern

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:14 PM EDT

    GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 23: Pep Guardiola, coach of Bayern Munich FC looks on after losing the International Friendly Match of Volkswagen Cup between Bayern Munich FC and Guangzhou Evergrande at Tianhe Stadium on July 23, 2015 in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Guardiola can erase a minor Bayern demon with his first Super Cup win on Saturday versus Wolfsburg.

  19. Fourth-tier NPSL, PDL to hold semifinals this weekend; PDL to hold final, too

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT

    New York Cosmos B New York Cosmos B

    In the PDL, Seattle Sounders U-23, New York Red Bulls U-23, K-W United and Ocala Stampede are left, while the NPSL has New York Cosmos B, Chattanooga FC, Indiana Fire and CD Aguiluchos USA remaining.

Featured video

What can we expect from PL new boys?