Italy face a do-or-die evening in Euro 2012 as the Azzurri’s hopes of getting out of the group rest not only on their meeting with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland, but also the outcome of the Spain vs. Croatia contest. Yet unless Cesare Prandelli’s side see of the Irish, the result of the other Group C match will be meaningless.
The permutations in the group are barely less complex than quantum physics. They are at least as clear as mud. For the record, if Spain and Croatia draw 2-2, Italy are out regardless of the result of their match with Ireland. Likewise, to have any chance of progression, Italy must beat Ireland. After that the different possibilities begin to boggle the mind, with head-to-head records, goal difference and even the FIFA rankings of the different nations potentially coming into the equation. A full explanation of the meaning of different results can be found via Football
Perhaps because calcio lately seems forever in the midst of a match-fixing furore – it was calciopoli in 2006, calcioscommese now – certain sections of Italian football see conspiracy lurking in all corners. According to the Guardian the Spanish camp has rejected the suggestion a convenient result could be pre-arranged while the BBC echoed as much from Croatia. And in truth, the professional pride of all concerned, not to mention the prestige of topping the group and the desire to get a favourable draw against the qualifiers from group D, should guard against such matters.
The possibility of a draw looms large on the horizon but Italy cannot allow themselves to be distracted by events in Gdansk – the focus must be on their match in Poznan. The most painful outcome of the evening would be either Spain or Croatia losing and handing Italy the glimpse of the next round, only for Italy to let their minds wander and allow Ireland to claim their first points of the tournament. It is not only the Spaniards and Croatians who must be professional at all times on Monday – the need for professionalism extends to the Italians perhaps even more so.
If Italy do slip up against Ireland it would not be for the first time – not even for the first time on this date. On June 18 1994 Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup, Ray Houghton scoring the only goal of the game. But that result did not prove terminal to Italy’s tournament, as under Arrigo Sacchi Italy still reached the final, only losing to Brazil on penalties. That may be were the two sets of circumstances differ. Losing to Ireland 18 years later would end Italy’s involvement in the competition, whereas in 1994 Italy escaped from group E having scored one more goal than Norway. If the margins are slim now, they were practically miniscule then.
From such uncertain beginnings came a tournament that nearly ended in success, however, and this time around could well prove similar. Yet there is much work to be done before then – but thanks to Italy’s inability to hold a lead against Spain and Croatia, even victory may lead ultimately to failure.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Italy v Ireland