The Group C clash of Spain and Republic of Ireland will be Thursday’s late kick off in the city of Gdansk. Read out betting preview and best tips here.
Neither Spain nor Ireland got their Euro 2012 campaigns off to the ideal start as the reigning champions were held to a 1-1 draw by Italy and The Boys in Green were trounced 3-1 by Croatia.
After the game Spanish goalscorer Cesc Fabregas said that he didn’t want to “complain”, before going on to complain about the state of the pitch in Gdansk. They’ll need to come to terms with the surface pretty soon as their remaining two group games are played at the same venue; anything less than a win for the world and European champions in this match would seriously dent their qualification aspirations.
The Irish, on the other hand, know that defeat would mathematically end their chances of making the knockout stages. They were out fought and, most importantly, out manoeuvred against Croatia at the weekend as their once trademark solid defence was made to look decidedly vulnerable. They’ll need to rediscover that rigidity at the back in order to take anything from this game.
Despite their obvious strengths Spain might, however, be ideal opponents for Giovanni Trapattoni and his team. Ireland like to sit deep and tried to do so against Croatia on Sunday, but a combination of individual errors and clever movement from their opponents – getting the ball wide then crossing the ball and dominating the aerial battles – rendered the Irish gameplan useless. They know exactly what to expect from the possession-hungry Spanish and can set up in such a way to combat their threats. Expect a similar encounter to that which we saw at the Nou Camp in the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona.
The big decision facing manager Vincente del Bosque is whether to introduce a recognised striker to his starting XI, and if he does who should it be. He opted to omit Alvaro Negrado, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres in favour of a six-man midfield against Italy but Ireland’s aforementioned defensive strategy should see at least one of the forward trio start this match.
Spain look the obvious winners here and can be backed at odds of just 2/7 for the three points that would keep them in the driving seat for qualification to the knockout stages. But it may be worth siding with the Irish to keep their opposition at bay until at least half-time and backing Draw/Spain at odds of 11/4 in the HT/FT market and/or the half-time draw at 6/4. Seven of Spain’s last eight goals have come in the second 45 minutes of matches.
Robbie Keane scored a 90th minute penalty when the teams last crossed paths in the knockout stages of 2002 World Cup. Although their have been calls for the country’s all-time goalscorer to be dropped from the starting XI Trapattoni is unlikely to make such a big decision in such an important game. Keane is a 3/1 shot to add to his all-time tally of 53 international goals.
This is a big game for both teams and there are certain to be more than a few nerves jangling both on the pitch and in the terraces. If Ireland can rediscover the defensive frugality that has brought them this far then the potential for an upset is there, but all logic suggests it will be Spain celebrating at the final whistle.