Ciaran Bonass gives us the betting odds in this preview of Thursday evening’s Group C kick off, Italy v Croatia.
The only thing stranger than Spain’s unique, but not altogether unsuccessful, 4-6-0 formation against Italy in their thrilling opening game from Group C last Sunday was the innovative and impressive 3-5-2 system Cesare Prandelli implemented to combat the flood of Spanish midfielders his side were set to face.
That Prandelli’s formation proved so creative while also curbing the influence of Spain’s hypnotic tika-taka style was commendable, as the Azzurri made at least four presentable goalscoring opportunities in addition to Antonio Di Natale’s excellent goal instead of merely containing and stifling their opponents as many were expecting – they are Italian after all – but it’s difficult to foresee the same lineup taking the field against Croatia, regardless of its relative success on that occasion.
It was seen as a huge shock, not to mention a bold move, by the Italian boss that Emanuele Giaccherini should make his Italian debut in a game against the European champions and highest ranked team in the world and although he performed well, Andrea Barzagli may well take the place of his Juventus team-mate to allow Daniele De Rossi to return to his more familiar role in central midfield. Mario Balotelli, in particular, will do well to keep his starting place after Di Natale’s starring cameo role and Balotelli’s own typically erratic display, which included his mandatory booking, was topped off by the Manchester City striker’s inability to get a shot away despite finding himself clear on goal before being substituted moments later.
Croatia, on the other hand, were entirely predictable in both the personnel and system coach Slaven Bilic adopted in the largely comfortable 3-1 win secured over Ireland in their group opener. There is a chance that a striker may be compromised for the sake of an extra body in midfield but with both Mario Mandzukic, twice, and Nikica Jelavic finding the target against Ireland, and Croatia only in need of one more win to guarantee a place in the last eight, it would be an odd and slightly negative adjustment on Bilic’s part.
The Croats have never actually lost to Italy in five meetings since the nation’s independance, but it’s probably unwise to pay too much attention to such history as the only survivors from the last Italian side to face Croatia – when Eduardo and Luka Modric got the goals in a 2-0 win for the away side in August 2006 – are centre-back Giorgio Chiellini and Di Natale, who was a late substitute. Of far more interest is the fact that Italy remain unbeaten competitively under the guidance of Prandelli with eight wins and three draws for the former Fiorentina boss over that period, and only conceded two goals throughout their qualifiers – the lowest of any country at Euro 2012 – albeit it in a relatively straightforward group.
Despite their record in the fixture and comfortable win against Ireland, it’s hard to recommend Croatia even at juicy odds of 5/2 as the quality and assurance of the Azzurri’s performance in their draw with Spain was impossible to ignore. The cheap goals the Irish defence gave away that night won’t be repeated either so at slightly above EVENS Italy look to be reasonable value to get a win which would put them in a terrific position going into their final group game against Ireland.
Antonio Cassano might be worth a small investment at 8/1 to strike first, as whatever changes Prandelli does make he always found room for the AC Milan attacker throughout qualifying, when Cassano top scored with six, and he looked lively again against the Spanish. At similar odds of 17/2, a 2-0 or 2-1 win for Italy looks feasible too.