Euro 2012 Group C PreviewThe third of our Euro 2012 preview series focuses on Group C, which contains reigning World and European Champions Spain, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and our Euro 2012 dark horses, Croatia. As ever, we cast an eye over the key players, the fixtures and the coaches, to ensure you are fully prepared ahead of your Euro 2012 betting.

Euro 2012 Group C
Croatia
Ireland
Italy
Spain

Euro 2012 Group C Fixture List
(All times listed are UK – British Summer Time)

June 10 – 5pm
Spain vs Italy
PGE Arena, Gdansk

June 10 – 7.45pm
Rep. Ireland vs Croatia
Municipal Stadium, Poznan

June 14 – 5pm
Italy vs Croatia
Municipal Stadium, Poznan

June 14 – 7.45pm
Spain vs Rep. Ireland
PGE Arena, Gdansk

June 18 – 7.45pm
Croatia vs Spain
PGE Arena, Gdansk

June 18 – 7.45pm
Italy vs Rep. Ireland
Municipal Stadium, Poznan

The Teams

Croatia
To win Euro 2012: 51.00 (BoyleSports, Coral, BetVictor)
To win Group C: 10.00 (Coral, BetVictor)
Current FIFA Rank: 8
Best performance: Quarter-Finals (1996, 2008)
Euro 2012 Qualifying: 2nd, Group F (Play-Offs)

Coach: Slaven Bilić
A former defender for Croatia in his playing days, Slaven Bilić is now the coach of the national side, a position he has occupied since 2006. His record is good, having won more than two-thirds of his games in charge and overseen a European Championships campaign in 2008 that saw Croatia eliminated only on penalties, having won all three group games (including against eventual finalists Germany) and conceding only two goals.

Key Player: Luka Modrić
Three times a winner of the Croatian Footballer of the Year award and once hailed by national coach Slaven Bilić as the best player in Europe, Luka Modrić is the man that makes the Croatian midfield tick (as well as that of Tottenham Hotspur, where his performances attracted several bids of up to £40 million from London rivals Chelsea). With eight goals from his 54 international caps, Modrić also knows where the back of the net is. If Croatia are to do well at Euro 2008, the creativity of Modrić will no doubt be at the heart of it.

Croatia qualified for Euro 2012 with a solid record, losing just twice and conceding only seven goals, before securing a 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the Play-Offs. They have been criticized by some pundits who suggest that they only play well when they are “in the mood”, but boy can they turn it on when they are in the mood. In Modrić they have a fantastic playmaker, in Eduardo they have a lethal finisher and in Josip Šimunić, they have experience at the back. Croatia could very well prove to be Euro 2012′s dark horses.

Ireland
To win Euro 2012: 101.00 (BetVictor, Ladbrokes)
To win Group C: 19.00 (BetVictor, bwin)
Current FIFA Rank: 18
Best performance: Group Stage (1988)
Euro 2012 Qualifying: 2nd, Group B (Play-Offs)

Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni
“Trap” is now 73 years old and in his long career, he has managed some of the best sides in world football. Seven Serie A titles when at Juventus and Inter, a European Cup, three UEFA Cups, a Bundesliga title, league successes in Austria and Portugal… you name it, and Giovanni Trapattoni has probably won it. He coached Italy for four years too, leading them to a World Cup and a European Championships, though Italy disappointed in both tournaments. He will be hoping that it is a case of “third time lucky” with his new international side Ireland.

Key Player: Shay Given
Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Given has been capped 121 times for Ireland, more than any other player in the country’s history, and at the age of 35, this could well be his last international tournament. He will definitely be looking to go out with a bang and his experience will prove invaluable to the Irish; not to mention his shot stopping, which helped Ireland to concede just eight goals in twelve Euro 2012 qualifying matches.

Ireland are a much improved side under the guidance of Trapattoni and they conceded just seven goals in their Euro 2012 Qualification group. They only lost one game – to eventual Group B winners Russia – a result that cost them automatic qualification to the European Championships. However, they made easy work of beating Estonia in the resulting Play-Off match to secure their first trip to the European Championships since their tournament debut in 1988, winning 5-1 on aggregate. However, it’s fair to say that Group B was one of the easier Euro 2012 Qualification groups and Trapattoni’s men will likely need the luck of the Irish if they are to make their first ever Knockout stage at Euro 2012.

Italy
To win Euro 2012: 15.00 (BoyleSports, Paddy Power, BetVictor)
To win Group C: 4.30 (Paddy Power)
Current FIFA Rank: 12
Best performance: Winners (1968)
Euro 2012 Qualifying: 1st, Group C

Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Prandelli’s coaching career has humble beginnings, spending seven years in charge of Atalanta’s youth team and briefly filling in as caretaker manager, before moving to Serie B side Lecce where he was quickly sacked. It was at Fiorentina where he really made his name, guiding them to the Champions League (which they were stripped off due to a match fixing scandal) and later the UEFA Cup Semi-Final, before eventually taking them past the group stages of the Champions League. He took the Italy job in 2010 and oversaw a successful Euro 2012 Qualification campaign, winning eight games and drawing two, conceding just two goals in the process.

Key Player: Gianluigi Buffon
One of the world’s best goalkeepers for a number of years now, Italy captain Buffon will need to call upon all of his experience at Euro 2012 if Italy are to have any chance of success. The squad has a distinct lack of goals and despite qualifying for the European Championships with ease, Italy did only manage to score seventeen goals in the process. The famous Italian defence conceded just two goals during the campaign – both away from home – and Buffon is a key part of that.

We can expect plenty of 1-0 scorelines from the Italians during Euro 2012, having one of the tightest defences around, but a distinct lack of firepower up front. This is not the strongest Italian side we have seen and with match fixing scandals still in recent memory, these are testing times for Italian football. That said, Cesare Prandelli has rejuvenated the team and we all know that the Italians save their best football for major international tournaments; expect Euro 2012 to be no different.

Spain
To win Euro 2012: 3.60 (bwin)
To win Group C: 1.62 (BoyleSports, SportingBet)
Current FIFA Rank: 1
Best performance: Winners (1964, 2008)
Euro 2012 Qualifying: 1st, Group I

Coach: Vicente del Bosque
61 year old Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has won pretty much everything in the game, having guided his side to World Cup success in 2012, as well as winning the Champions League twice with Real Madrid (as well as other European silverware) and having managed some of the biggest stars in world football. There is of course one major international tournament missing from his glittering CV – the European Championships. It would take a brave person to bet against him correcting that at the forthcoming Euro 2012 tournament.

Key Player: Xavi
Where do you start? Spain have match winners all over the pitch, from goalkeeper Iker Casillas with his wealth of experience (128 caps and 450+ league games for Real Madrid) to David Villa up front, with his 51 goals from 82 games for the Spanish national team. But the man that keeps Spain ticking, the player that pulls all the strings for the reigning European Champions, is undoubtedly Barcelona’s Xavi. With 108 caps of his own, he has plenty of experience and there’s not much left for him to achieve in football, but he is still hungry for success.

Spain are the current holders of both the World Cup and the European Championships, having triumphed at Euro 2008 where they beat Germany 1-0 in the final. Qualifying for Euro 2012 was a breeze; they won all eight fixtures, conceding only six times and scoring at a rate of over three goals per game. They are the complete team, with a top class goalkeeper, a wonderfully creative midfield and attack, a whole team capable of scoring goals and vast experience right through the side. It really is tough to look past them at this stage, but as such, the best odds of a Spanish success at Euro 2012 are a prohibitive 3.60 with bwin. Still, come the final whistle in the 2012 European Championships final, that could look an enormous price.

Verdict
Despite being the second highest FIFA ranked team in Euro 2012 Group C, Croatia are comfortably behind both Spain and Italy in the betting, which could be a real error by the bookmakers. Assuming that Spain are certainties to qualify for the Knockout stages of Euro 2012, the fight for the second spot is likely to come down to whoever wins the Italy vs Croatia fixture, and we fancy that Slaven Bilić’s side can get a positive result in that tie.

If that were to happen, the best price of 2.80 (BetVictor) about Croatia to escape from Group C would look very generous indeed and if you feel especially brave, an even better bet might be the Straight Forecast for Euro 2012 Group C: Spain to beat Croatia is a juicy 4.50 (with both Bet365 and BetVictor).