Defending Champions Spain and giants Italy form the powerhouses of Group C in a pool that also contain the Republic of Ireland and dark horses Croatia.
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.
Italy couldn’t have asked for a tougher opponent to kick start their European campaign as they face Spain first up. With the European Championships looming, the Italians have been clouded by a series of controversies, injuries and scandals and a poor run of form to top it all. Rocked by a match fixing scandal not for the first time, the Italian Prime Minister has called for a suspension of football while coach Cesare Prandelli said that he was ready to withdraw his team from the Championships for the good of football
Italy’s run of form on the field have been no good either. A 3-0 defeat against Russia was the team’s third successive defeat, the first ever time they lost three games in a row since 1983.The retirement of Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso have considerably weakened the Azzurris while only Buffon and Pirlo remain from the team that won the World Cup in 2006.
Italy come into the European Championships with the best defensive record in Europe having conceded only two goals in ten games and are yet to lose a competitive game under the managership of Prandelli.
Key Player: In the absence of Guiseppe Rossi and Giampalo Pazzini, the Italians would heavily be banking on the goal scoring abilities of the attention seeking Mario Balotelli, who is coming on the back of a controversial yet successful season at Manchester City.
Other Stars: Gianluigi Buffon, Andreas Pirlo, Danielle De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Antonio Cassano, Antonio Di Natale.
Prediction: Group Stages, the surprise exit from the tournament.
Even if the Italians qualify from Group C, they are certain to meet either England or France in the quarterfinals and it is difficult to see the Azzurri going much further, especially with the clout of the match fixing scandal over their head. Italy are no strangers to bouncing back from controversies after Paolo Rossi inspired his team to win the 1982 World Cup before the Calciopoli affair helped Italy come out strong and win the title in 2006. Can they do an encore here?