Euro 2012 Betting Preview – Group C and Group D

June 5th, 2012 | Posted by in Euro 2012

Euro 2012 Betting Previews continue this time for Group C and Group D thanks to our friends at Sportingbet Australia. Check out all the Euro 2012 betting odds from a number of European, Australian and International online sports books.

Group C

Spain

Italy

Ireland

Croatia

SPAIN

And so to Group C where Spain and Italy will inevitably be well backed to progress to the knockout stages, but where both Ireland and Croatia will also fancy their chances of causing a boilover or two.

Spain of course have been installed as short-priced favourites to retain their European Championship crown and given the quality at coach Vicente del Bosque’s disposal, it’s not hard to see why.

The likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Iker Casillas and Gerard Pique will again form the core of the Spanish side and their stylish, possession-rich approach unsurprisingly remains largely unchanged from that which drove them to their double triumph at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010.

As expected, Las Roja made light work of a relatively easy qualifying group, winning all eight of their games, scoring 26 and conceding only 6 goals in the process to retain their spot at the top of the FIFA World Rankings.

Yet all is not entirely rosy in the Spanish garden.

del Bosque will be without two of his key men in Poland and Ukraine and while their absence almost certainly won’t hinder Spain’s chances of topping Group C, it may come back to haunt them in the latter stages of the competition.

The men in question are durable defender Carlos Puyol and the country’s all-time record goalscorer, David Villa.

Barcelona skipper Puyol has been forced to undergo knee surgery, leaving him agonisingly stranded on 99 caps, while Villa has failed to fully recover from the badly broken leg that has kept him out of competitive action since December.

So del Bosque will be forced to make two changes in vital areas and his alternative options raise as many questions as they provide answers.

Up front, Fernando Torres may just edge out Fernando Llorente in replacing Villa and while undoubtedly a world class finisher on his day, the Chelsea man will head to the tournament off the back of a torrid season in the Premier League with his confidence levels consequently low and his club future very much up in the air.

And in terms of covering for Puyol’s absence, del Bosque is set to move Sergio Ramos from right back into the middle to partner Gerard Pique, a move which may leave some Spanish fans a little on edge.

Both men are undoubtedly among the world’s best defenders, but they are nevertheless also prone to the odd rush of blood and it’s hard to imagine they won’t produce a costly blunder or two between them at some stage during the tournament.

Fatigue may also be an issue for the favourites, bearing in mind that most of the contingent drawn from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao played up to 60 games last season.

So even this legendary Spanish squad is not without its faults and weaknesses and when you factor in the additional burden placed upon their shoulders by an expectant public now accustomed to tournament success, Euro 2012 is unlikely to be quite as much of a cakewalk for the reigning champions as some pundits appear to think.

Any side in which the likes of Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Llorente are not guaranteed starting berths clearly has the class to go all the way, but there nevertheless remains a nagging suspicion that Spain’s opponents have wised-up to their tactical approach and that their bid to retain their title may come up just short.

Predicted Group Finish: 1st

One to Watch: David Silva

 ITALY

Italy, meanwhile, seem content for the media spotlight to be shone elsewhere as they quietly and methodically prepare for a tilt at a title they have not won since 1968.

Cesare Prandelli has assembled a solid, hard-working unit whom he sets up in a curious hybrid of styles. In some ways they are a throwback to the defence-orientated Azzurri sides of yesteryear, as they showed during a remarkable qualification campaign in which they conceded a miserly two goals in ten games.

Admittedly the likes of group rivals Estonia, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands did not provide the sternest of defensive tests, but the Italian rearguard also held firm last August when they struck a potentially important psychological blow by defeating Spain in a friendly played in Bari.

Yet Italy have not entirely reverted to their catenaccio tradition, often lining up in a genuine 4-3-3 formation and attempting to stymie their opponents more by retaining possession than by simply setting up an impregnable defensive perimeter deep inside their own half.

As many as three of Juventus’ Scudetto-winning defence could line up for Italy’s first game which is a re-match with Spain, including Giorgio Chiellini who is expected to recover from a thigh injury in time to feature.

Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will retain the gloves and skipper the side at what will be his fourth European Championship, while the similarly vastly-experienced Andrea Pirlo will again anchor the midfield in which Claudio Marchisio of Juventus and Riccardo Montolivo of Milan will also play key roles.

One less well-known figure who could force his way into Prandelli’s midfield considerations, meanwhile, is Marco Verratti who plays his club football for unfashionable Serie B side Pescara. Still just 19, the reported Milan and Juventus transfer target has been hailed as the natural successor to Pirlo and could make a major impact on the tournament if handed enough game time by his coach.

Up front, the Italians have a variety of very different options, ranging from pint-sized tricksters Fabio Borini and Sebastian Giovinco, to Udinese veteran Antonio di Natale and the supremely talented if temperamentally unstable Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.

With only 20 international goals between them, however, none of Italy’ cannonieri can be described as prolific on the world stage and it will be interesting to see how Prandelli chooses to employ them.

Historically Italy have tended to make heavy weather of qualifying, before starting tournaments slowly and then peaking when it counts in the latter stages, whereas this time they have bucked that trend by coming through their group at a canter.

Even the most hardcore Azzurri fan, however, would be hard-pressed to claim that this is one of the stronger squads that the 2006 World Cup winners have taken into a finals and both Croatia and Ireland may well feel that Prandelli’s side have weaknesses they can exploit to cause an upset.

Defensively they look extremely sound, but their midfield is not overflowing with creativity, their strike force is a little light-on in terms of international goalscoring pedigree and their preparations have taken place beneath the gathering storm clouds of yet another match-fixing scandal threatening to engulf the domestic Italian game.

It’s hard to see Italy repeating their friendly victory over Spain in the very different white-heat atmosphere of a finals game, but not so tricky to foresee them coming unstuck against either Croatia or Ireland and making hard work of emerging from the group.

Predicted Group Finish: 3rd

 One to Watch: Marco Verratti

 IRELAND

Ireland return to the finals of a European Championship for the first time since 1988, with their vast army of travelling fans set to add plenty of colour and humour to proceedings inPoland and Ukraine.

Their team, however, is a lot less flamboyant, relying primarily on hard work, organisation and a defensive discipline instilled by coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Some Irish fans have complained about the Italian’s safety-first tactics, but they worked well enough as the men in green finished runners-up behind Russia in qualifying before cruising past Estonia in the play-offs.

And in fairness to Trapattoni, it’s not as if he is leaving a clutch of world-class creative geniuses out of his side in favour of reliable, no-frills workers.

With Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan set to form Ireland’s central midfield partnership, it is simply unrealistic to expect them to perform like Xavi and Iniesta, so in many ways Trapattoni has just cut his cloth accordingly and focused on making his side, first and foremost, hard to beat.

And while their squad is primarily made up of players plying their trade in the lower reaches of the English Premier League, they do have some attacking stars with the ability to create a stir at this tournament, most notably widemen Aidan McGeady and James McClean and record-goalscorer Robbie Keane.

McGeady now plays his club football with Russian giants Spartak Moscow and on his day, has the pace and guile to make life hard for any full-back, while McClean has been selected off the back of a breakthrough season with EPL side Sunderland during which he displayed the kind of fearless attitude required to succeed at a tournament of this magnitude.

Keane, meanwhile, may now be operating in the less challenging environment of America’s MLS with Los Angeles Galaxy, but he remains a genuine goalscoring threat at the very highest level and will be determined to make his mark on what may well be the last major international tournament of his stellar career.

Elsewhere in the squad, there are fitness concerns surrounding key defender Richard Dunne who missed a large chunk of Aston Villa’s season through injury, while Stephen Hunt, Sean St Ledger, Darren O’Dea and vastly-experienced goalkeeper Shay Given have also been receiving treatment in recent weeks, along with John O’Shea.

The Irish begin their campaign against Croatia and simply must target three points from that game if they are to stand a chance of extending their stay in Poland and Ukraine beyond the group stage.

Given that they are unlikely to create a host of chances in any of their games, the pressure will be very much on the likes of Keane, Jon Walters, Shane Long and Kevin Doyle to take those that do come along and then hope that Dunne, Given and co can reproduce the kind of defensive heroics that earned their side a memorable 0-0 draw against Russia in Moscow during qualification.

And although his spoken English never seems to get any more comprehensible, Trapattoni himself could be another ofIreland’s key weapons.

The 73-year-old has a wealth of tactical nous and will need to call upon every ounce  of it if his side are to defy the odds and make the last eight, while his inside knowledge of Italy could prove invaluable when the two sides meet in the final group game.

If they can hit the ground running with a win over Croatia, this close-knit group of players is capable of creating its own momentum and their chances of sneaking through behind Spain should not be discounted.

Predicted Group Finish: 2nd

One to Watch: James McClean

 TURKEY

Quarter-Finalists in both 1996 and 2008 Croatia, took the scenic route to Euro 2012, eventually seeing off Turkey in the play-offs having finished as Group F runners-up behind Greece.

Their qualification featured the kind of sublime to the ridiculous results that have been a trademark of Croatian football over the years, notably a stunning 3-0 demolition of Turkey in the Istanbul leg of the play-off preceded by an abject defeat in Georgia and a lack-lustre 2-0 reverse at the hands ofGreece.

So it is therefore hard to know what to expect from Slaven Bilic’s side despite their lofty position of eighth in the FFA rankings and the fact that they have an abundance of superb technical players within their ranks.

Niko Kranjkar may have become something of a forgotten figure at Tottenham, but he led the way with four goals in qualification and will be joined in midfield by club team-mate Luka Modric, a player whose world class is beyond dispute.

Skipper Darijo Srna will also feature prominently alongside the Spurs duo as he closes in on his 100th cap and another midfielder to look out for is Ivan Perisic, a former Belgian Golden Boot Award winner with Club Brugge who last year played a key role in helping his new club Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title.

Ahead of this supremely-gifted quartet will be Nikica Jelavic, who made such a massive impact at Everton after joining them from Rangers in January, along with Shakhtar Donetsk frontman Eduardo whose record of 22 goals from 45 games at international level is not to be sniffed at, while the abrasive Ivan Klasnic of Bolton provides another, more direct, option.

Bilic also has some big-hitters to call upon at the back including Canberra-born colossus Josip Simunic whom Socceroos fans will doubtless recall from the 2006 World Cup, plus Bayern Munich’s Danijel Pranjic and yet another Tottenham man in the form of full-back Vedran Corluka.

The Croatian coach has taken the unusual step of announcing that he will be quitting his post to join Lokomotiv Moscow after the tournament regardless of how his side performs and given the harmonious atmosphere he has created within the senior national squad, his players are likely to be keen to send him out on a high.

Following the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the men from the Balkans will be looking to re-establish themselves among the world’s elite over the coming weeks and if they can take three points from their opening game with Ireland, they could cause both Italy and Spain some serious problems.

Croatia’s own main problem, however, remains their inability to play to their potential on a consistent basis. With the quality of players at their disposal, they really should have won what was a very ordinary qualifying group with something to spare.

But instead they found themselves scrapping it out in the play-offs and although their subsequent result in Istanbul was massively impressive, it’s hard to escape the feeling that they are incapable of producing that level of performance regularly enough to make a major impact at such a short, sharp tournament where just one off-day in the group stage will all but guarantee an early flight home.

If they can make the Quarter-Finals, none of their rivals will be keen to tackle Bilic’s side, but that is a big if given the strength of Group C and the Croatians penchant for inconsistency.

Predicted Group Finish: 4th

One to Watch: Ivan Perisic

Group D

Ukraine

Sweden

France

England

UKRAINE

Like Group A, Group D has an open look about it, with major question marks surrounding the credentials of all four sides.

Co-hosts Ukraine will of course enjoy a wave of popular support, but predicting whether they can ride that wave to the knockout stages in what is their first ever appearance at this tournament as an independent country, is no easy task.

Oleg Blokhin is the man charged with overseeing their campaign and it is a crying shame for Ukraine that the 1975 European Footballer of the Year is not thirty years younger and pulling on his boots to terrorise the world’s best defences rather than donning a suit to sit in the dugout.

The current generation of Ukrainian fans have of course had another attacker to idolise in the form of Andriy Shevchenko who may be nearing retirement at 35, but nevertheless remains a talismanic presence for his side and retains much of his predatory instinct in front of goal.

The former Milan and Chelsea star is set to act as the spearhead in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with another ex-EPL man, Andriy Voronin, playing just behind him and Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko pushing forward down either flank.

The system has worked reasonably well in Ukraine’s recent friendly outings which have yielded victories over Bulgaria, Israel, Estonia and Austria, plus a spectacular 3-3 draw with Germany late last year.

Much like the CzechRepublic, Blokhin’s side are a dangerous proposition on the counter-attack, but do have one or two concerns at the back where they have little in the way of experienced cover should the likes of Oleksandr Kucher and Taras Mikhalik be hit by injury or suspension.

They will also have to turn to goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov who is a capable performer but does not offer the same level of big-game know-how as regular first-choice Oleksandr Shovkovskiy who is sadly set to miss the tournament through injury.

Virtually the entire Ukrainian squad now play their football at home, with the exception of Voronin who turns out for Dynamo Moscow and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk who remains a key figure at Bayern Munich.

The 33-year-old has won more than 100 international caps since debuting back in 2000 and provides a steadying, reassuringly solid presence as the holder in midfield for the men in yellow and blue.

As with Poland, it would be in the tournament’s best interest as an overall spectacle if Ukraine were to emerge from this group to make the Quarter-Finals, but they face a far sterner task than their co-hosts in the form of three finals-savvy group rivals.

They may have reached the last eight at the 2006 World Cup, but they have done little in the intervening years to suggest that they are capable of matching or even surpassing that achievement and an early exit looks to be on the cards.

Predicted Group Finish: 4th

One to Watch: Yevhen Konoplyanka

SWEDEN

Like their Scandinavian cousins Denmark, Sweden have become regulars at the finals of major tournaments in recent decades and given the lack of a really strong favourite in Group D, will fancy their chances of using their tournament experience to book a place in the last eight.

Erik Hamren’s men certainly qualified in good style, defeating the previously-unbeaten Dutch in Stockholm to book their passage through to the finals as the highest-placed group runners-up.

In another similarity with the Danes, the Swedish squad is largely made up of solid rather than supremely gifted players who ply their club trade in a myriad of countries including Italy, England, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Greece.

The one true world star in their ranks is of course skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic who will head to Euro 2012 off the back of another sensational domestic campaign with Milan.

The former Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona and Inter striker bagged 28 goals to top the Serie A scoring chart and also helped himself to a hat-trick in Sweden’s 5-0 qualifying rout of neighbours Finland.

Now 30, the towering target-man is arguably at the peak of his powers and although his critics continue to insist, with some justification, that he tends to go missing on the big occasion, this may just be the tournament when he truly shines.

And if he does, Sweden could well surprise a few people.

Elsewhere in the squad, attacking midfielder Ola Toivonen could also be in for a big tournament following a successful Eredivisie season with PSV Eindhoven and Ibrahimovic should also benefit from the pinpoint service provided by the left foot of Lyon midfielder Kim Kallstrom.

Coach Hamren seems likely to send his side out in a fairly orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with former Bolton man Johan Elmander likely to operate alongside Ibrahimovic provided he overcomes a broken metatarsal in time.

The duo will certainly provide a very serious aerial threat to any side and with the likes of Olof Mellberg and Jonas Olsson rumbling forward from the back to join them in a bid to get on the end of the quality set-piece delivery suppled by Sunderland’s Seb Larsson, route one could prove to be a very productive avenue for the men in yellow and blue.

Andreas Isaksson, meanwhile, will bring more than 90 caps’ worth of experience to bear in goal and it’s worth keeping an eye on goalscoring central midfielder Rasmus Elm whose accomplished displays for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar in recent seasons have seen him strongly linked with a big-money move to Liverpool.

Combining good technical skills with a high level of physicality and a willingness to play the long ball as and when required, the Swedes will keep every side in this group honest and will be especially keen to maintain a fine record against England that has seen them lose only one of thirteen meetings between the two countries dating back to the late 1960s.

The outspoken and often controversial Ibrahimovic aside, Hamren’s team won’t attract much media attention in the build-up to the tournament, but they are more than capable of raining on Ukraine’s parade in the opening group game inKiev.

Repeating the trick against either England or France, however, might just prove beyond them and they look set to fall agonisingly short of a place in the quarters.

Predicted Group Finish: 3rd

One to Watch: Rasmus Elm

FRANCE

If you are looking for a dark horse value-bet at Euro 2012, France could fit the bill.

Les Bleus will be seeking redemption at the tournament following their embarrassing self-inflicted implosion at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and although coach Laurent Blanc describes his side as very much a work in progress, they have enough quality to trouble even the likes of Spain,Germany and the Netherlands.

The fallout from the mutiny under former boss Raymond Domenech continues to rumble on, with several players still serving suspensions for their part in it, but by and large the French seemed to have turned the page, losing just one of their games in Group D to qualify ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

And although it is always unwise to read too much into friendly results, Blanc’s men did win away in Germany earlier this year and hammered Ukraine4-1 in Donetsk almost exactly twelve months ago.

France also have a decent recent record in this competition, claiming the title in 2000 and reaching the last eight in 2004 and the last four in 2006 and although Blanc is currently at loggerheads with the head of the country’s football federation, there is a genuine sense of optimism among the supporters who were so badly let down in South Africa.

In terms of tactics, Blanc has impressed with his flexibility since succeeding the reviled Domenech and may well opt to continue adapting his side’s shape to meet the differing challenge they will face from Ukraine, Sweden and England.

4-2-3-1 has been one of his more preferred formations, with Karim Benzema operating as the lone striker ahead of a clutch of very talented attacking midfielders including Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich and Samir Nasri of Manchester City.

Benzema himself will head to the tournament full of confidence having bagged 32 goals for Real Madrid as they took out the La Liga title last term, while target-man Olivier Giroud provides a different option in attack and will also be firing on all cylinders following a wonderful season with surprise Ligue 1 champions Montpelier.

While Ribery, Nasri and Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa will provide the attacking thrust from midfield, Blanc can call upon three world class talents in the form of Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila and Marvin Martins to play just behind them.

M’Vila, in particular, could emerge as a real star at this tournament and if he does, the 21-year-old will surely secure a big-money move away from current club Rennes.

France have lost the services of Younes Kaboul, Loic Remy and Bacary Sagna to injury, but their squad still has an extremely strong look about it, with established stars such as Jeremy Menez, Alou Diarra and Gael Clichy all struggling to secure starting berths for the opening game against old foes England in Donetsk and the enigmatic Johan Gourcuff left out of the squad altogether.

Defensively, experienced Milan man Philippe Mexes will again pull the strings withValencia’s Adil Rami alongside him at centre-back and Patrice Evra is the favourite to nail down the left-back slot, while Mathieu Debuchy of Lille should get the nod at left-back and Hugo Lloris will the skipper the side from goal.

The French are keenly aware that they need to restore their tarnished image following the debacle in South Africa and with the new sense of togetherness that Blanc seems to have established within the playing group, there is every chance they will do exactly that.

This side may not quite peak until the 2014 World Cup, but they are undoubtedly on the up and up and if they can keep their key men fit and firing, no-one will fancy playing them in the knockout stages.

Predicted Group Finish: 1st

One to Watch: Yann M’Vila

ENGLAND

And finally to England, whom, for possibly the first time ever, appear to be heading into a tournament with a realistic level of expectation surrounding them.

Even the usually wildly jingoistic UK tabloid press seems to realise that new boss Roy Hodgson will be taking a limited squad to Poland and Ukraine and that even emerging from the group stage will be no easy feat.

Hodgson, of course, was something of a surprise appointment given that Harry Redknapp seemed to have been anointed as Fabio Capello’s successor by everyone except the actual decision-makers at the FA and he has had precious little time to work with his new charges.

The affable man from Croydon, however, showed during his spells with both the Swiss national team and Premier League side Fulham that he has the priceless ability to over-achieve with limited playing resources and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, in years to come, he could do the same with England.

Whether he has been given enough time to weave that kind of magic at Euro 2012, however, remains to be seen and fans of both Liverpool and Inter Milan will also be quick to point out that Hodgson’s repetitive shape drills and demand for rigid positional discipline have not produced results when he has attempted to impose them upon players with bigger profiles and similarly bigger egos.

One of Hodgson’s main tasks will be to discover a midfield balance that allows England to retain possession and build an attacking platform against Europe’s best technical sides. Too often in the past, the Three Lions have shown themselves to be incapable of moving the ball around effectively in midfield and have resorted instead to thumping hopeful punts into the channels for the front men to chase.

Attempting to emulate the style patented by Spain in recent years, however, would be ill-advised because England simply do not currently have the players to do so.

They may have beaten Spain in a recent friendly at Wembley, but the goal came from a set-piece and the home side spent most of the game chasing shadows.

England’s best hope of enjoying a successful tournament would seem to lie in trying to at least improve their ball retention, but also focusing upon playing the game at the kind of high tempo we see in the Premier League every week.

Out-passing Spain, Germany or Holland is not something that Hodgson’s side are likely to do any time soon, yet they could use the pace of Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and young prodigy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to trouble those sides out wide.

Wayne Rooney will of course be unavailable for the first two group games due to suspension and the loss of arguably their only genuine world-class player is a massive blow to England’s chances, but Jermain Defoe remains a superb natural finisher and if Andy Carroll can perform like he did in the latter stages of last month’s FA Cup Final, he too will trouble defences at this tournament.

England’s main area of concern is undoubtedly midfield where they will be denied the services of injured trio Jack Wilshere, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, with a thigh problem forcing the latter out of the squad on the eve of the tournament.

As Paul Scholes has also refused to come out of international retirement to help the cause, Hodgson seemingly has little choice other than to implement his preferred 4-4-2 formation, with Scott Parker partnering skipper Steven Gerrard in central midfield and Carroll leading the line alongside Ashley Young who bagged England’s goal in last week’s friendly win overNorway.

James Milner and Theo Walcott may well get the first chance to impress down the flanks, with Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to see some action off the bench.

Quite how John Terry managed to earn selection off the back of a woeful personal season with Chelsea remains a mystery, as does the make-up of the back four that will start the opening game against France. Ashley Cole seems the only lock-in at left-back, with Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka and Terry battling it out for the other three slots and Liverpool’s Martin Kelly also coming into the frame following his late call-up as a replacement for broken jaw-victim Gary Cahill.

And England will be hoping that first-choice ‘keeper Joe Hart can stay fit because his back-up Robert Green remains tainted by his disastrous display at the 2010 World Cup, while the third-choice is 19-year-old Jack Butland who is yet to make a single senior appearance for his club side, Birmingham City.

It’s easy to see why even the most one-eyed England fans are not rushing to put money on their side to be crowned Euro 2012 champions.

The squad is limited, the coach has had virtually no preparation time and although they came through qualification unbeaten, they were held to draws by both Switzerland and Montenegro.

An early exit is therefore not out of the question, but given the relative lack of strength in Group D, Hodgson’s side may just be able to secure second-place before making what looks like an inevitable Quarter-Final exit.

Predicted Group Finish: 2nd

One to Watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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