The best of the best in Group C.
Group C is an intriguing one, the obvious choices to progress are Spain and Italy.
Ireland will be no pushovers, with the running and work ethic of Kevin Doyle they will have to be hard to break down and make the most of their set pieces.
Croatia have a determined squad who when on top form are more than a match for anyone.
The holders Spain are without doubt the best in the world, their football is exciting, entertaining and their off the ball movement is far better than any other team national team I have ever seen. Put simply it would be a shock if they didn’t reach the final, which only goes to show how good they are.
Interestingly Italy defeated the current World and European champions 2-1 in a friendly back in August. Take what you will from that after England’s recent victory against Spain.
Italy’s last tournament success came in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where defensive stalwarts Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro lead the team to glory. The centre back partnership was the best around, conceding just two goals in the tournament meant proved to be the solid foundation for success. While Italy were not the most entertaining they were certainly the most effective in probably the dullest tournament of recent years.
This should be a tighter group than most think. Spain should have top spot nailed on, though if Italy don’t get firing from the off, Croatia and Ireland will be ready to pounce.
Italy – Riccardo Montolivo
You need to go back as far as 1968 for the Azzurri’s last European Championship crown. The emphasis from the good ship safety has sailed to a more attacking and vibrant Italian outfit, though Cesare Prandelli’s team willno doubt be as unpredictable as their Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli.
With Antonio Cassano no doubt missing, I am excited by the prospect of Giuseppe Rossi in the Italian front line should he earn a starting berth.
Italy have some excellent forwards capable of interchanging throughout a game with Balotellie, Rossi, Pazzini, Pepe all in contention for starting places. Add the experience of Marco Borriello and Alberto Gilardino to the mix and they have a serious chance of achieving something.
With so much attaching talent at their disposal Prandelli’s side need to be responsible defensively and also in the build up of attacking play. That’s where Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo comes in.
Montolivo is in the same mould as the great Andrea Pirlo, very comfortable on the ball in acting as a deep-lying playmaker. If Pirlo remains fit and takes up his natural deep-lying role then Montolivo will be pushed further up the pitch into a more natural advanced position.
Prandelli managed Montolivo at Fiorentina and he will know that the technically gifted and influential midfielder is capable of acting as the Italian Clarence Seedorf for the Azzurri.
Montolivo is in the last year of his contract at Fiorentina so the tournament will be a massive advertisement for his services. Pretty much every Champions League club will have an eye on Montolivo next Summer and at only 26 the midfielder has his best years to come.