With the UEFA European Football Championships only a day away, lets breakdown Group C.
Croatia (FIFA ranked #8)
An accomplished collection of teams, including two recent World Cup Champions (Italy & Spain); Euro 2008 quarterfinalists (Croatia); and a side nobody wants to play (Ireland). Spain is looking to win their third straight major championship, but there will be no walkovers among the other teams in this formidable group.
Euro History: 2008 - 5th; 2004 - 13th; 1996 - 7th.
Key Player - Luka Modric.Darijo Srna is their most experienced player, but Modric orchestrates the attack. When at his best, Modric's composure and passing ability is on par with Europe's best midfielders.
Outlook - They were not impressive in qualification, and are probably not as talented as previous Croatian squads. If they can get three points from plucky Ireland in their first game, they should make the quarterfinals.
Euro History: 1988 - 5th.
Key Player - Richard Dunne. At first glance, Robbie Keane looks like the most important player because of the lack of other goalscorers in the team. But Dunne is the rock of a stingy defense that will need to raise their level of play even higher.
Outlook - The wildcard is their Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni. The Irish are playing confident football, and he has them believing they belong. It would not be a shock to see them in the quarterfinals if Keane gets some help up front.
Euro History: 2008 - 8th; 2004 - 9th; 2000 - 2nd; 1996 - 10th; 1988 - 4th; 1980 - 4th; 1968 - 1st.
Key Player - Mario Balotelli. Although the inspiring play of midfield magician Andea Pirlo continues to drive their success, the Italians need the volatile Balotelli at his best-behaved. Equal parts nutter and genius, Balotelli is an enigma beyond comparison.
Outlook - This team has all the ingredients to make a run at the semifinals, but could also easily self-implode and crash out in grand fashion.
Euro History: 2008 - 1st; 2004 - 10th; 2000 - 5th; 1996 - 6th; 1988 - 6th; 1984 - 2nd; 1980 - 7th; 1964 - 1st.
Key Player - Xavi. A side this talented doesn't rely on one or even two players. However, Xavi's incredible vision, passing, and ball-control would be sorely missed in the Spanish midfield.
Outlook - Only four years ago, Spain was considered a perennial underachiever in major tournaments. The expectations have now reversed, and anything other than an appearance in the final will be a surprise. A lock for the quarterfinals.
Stats courtesy of espn soccernet and fifa.com.
Trevor Crovitz spent his middle childhood years living in England, where he fell in love with "The Beautiful Game". He maintains his loyalty years later, and also enjoys basketball, football, and baseball. Follow him on his blog The Sports Cult, and on twitter: @tcrovitz.
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