Spain, after winning the Championships in 2008 have won 33 of their 36 competitive games since, thus making them the team to beat in Poland and Ukraine. Italy, despite their recent run of form, are expected to go scrape through to the knockouts. Republic of Ireland are a team capable of springing up surprises while Croatia, on their day, can be world beaters.
Republic of Ireland:
The Euro 2012 will be Republic of Ireland’s first major competition since losing to Spain in a second round penalty shootout in the 2002 World Cup. Qualifying for the Championships itself is a major achievement for the side that is yet to achieve international recognition despite having some seasoned campaigners in its ranks. Ireland’s only memory of the European Championships remains from a first round exit in 1988 and it doesn’t look any better this time around after being placed in a pool alongside Spain, Croatia and Italy.
Qualifying for Poland and Ukraine also looked a distant possibility after six wins and three draws during the qualifying campaign. However a play-off victory against Estonia gave Ireland the opportunity to perform on the international stage.
Key Player: Despite having slowed down over the years, Robbie Keane still remains Ireland’s primary goal threat having scored seven goals during the qualifying campaign. The experience of playing in many of Europe’s top clubs including Liverpool, Spurs and Inter Milan may come in handy for Keane, who at 32, might be participating in his last major international tournament.
Other Stars: Shay Given, John O’ Shea, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Kevin Doyle.
Prediction: Group Stages
Despite a weak attacking line-up, the presence of O’Shea and Dunne in defence backed by a top notch goalkeeper in Given give the Irish some hope of containing the teams. But to finish top two in a group containing Spain, Italy and Croatia might just be a task out of reach for Ireland.