Spain is not going to go into the match looking for a draw. Russia got knocked out and Germany was within an inch of going down 2-1 and being knocked out late in the second half. If Croatia beat Spain and Italy beats Ireland, Spain will get eliminated. Trying for a 2-2 draw is like asking two NFL teams to try to engineer the game to go to overtime and trust the other team not to score a late field goal before the whistle blows. Literally impossible to do.
Spain will beat Croatia. Stone cold lock. I know Italy couldn’t do it, but Spain is going to come on strong now. They finally have Torres scoring and Xavi seemed to have regained some energy in the last game. If I were del Bosque, I would insert Cesc in the lineup instead of Xabi. Mandzukic has been big for Croatia, but this is the game for Jelavic to step up. Corluka is also going to have to have a big game in order to keep Alba and Iniesta thinking about their defensive responsibilities instead of overloading the Croatia right wing.
Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Croatia 1
Iniesta and Torres to score for Spain and Jelavic to score for Croatia.
Italy is going to struggle against Ireland. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities Italy gets against Ireland as I would assume Trapattoni puts an extra midfielder in to clog up the middle and reduce Pirlo’s impact. That said, Italy knows it has to win in order to go through. It will be a tense encounter and I expect Italy to pull it out by a goal.
Pre-game prediction: Italy 2 Ireland 1
Di Natale and Marchisio to score for Italy and Dunne to pull one back for Ireland off a set piece.
Ireland made Croatia look better than they really are. That will change against Italy. While Croatia have traditionally done well against Italy, and their strikers are in great form with both Jelavic and Mandzukic scoring against Ireland, tomorrow will be different.
The Italian midfield will not allow Modric any space to make plays and control the tempo. Cassano and Di Natale were very clever in their movement against Spain and should have the same success against Croatia.
Pre-game prediction: Italy 1 Croatia 0
Cassano or Marchisio to score for Italy.
If Spain vs Italy ends in a draw, it will mean both these teams in Match 6 are going to have to go for a win else it is going to be hard to get out of the group stage. Ireland and Croatia will both be praying for a Spain win. This match pits teams whose key players – Modric, Jelavic, Corluka vs Keane, Given, O’Shea – know each other well from the English Premier League.
Why Ireland will win
- Trapattoni is a master tactically. He will set Ireland up to manage the game well and neutralize the playmaking ability of Modric.
- Karma. This will be payback for getting robbed of appearing in World Cup 2010 by a Thierry Henry handball that was never called during Ireland’s playoff against France. This Irish team is so proud to have qualified for a major international tournament after a long break – they will give it everything they have in front of a stadium full of traveling Irish fans.
- They have good depth, speed and creativity in midfield with McGeady, McClean and Duff. This is balanced with very good striking options in Robbie Keane, Long, Doyle and Walters.
- Modric and Jelavic are not mysteries to most members of the Irish team.
Why Croatia will win
- This is a well coached team that has been together for a while. They will play hard for Bilic as this could be his last tournament in charge of the national team.
- Modric. He pulls the strings all over the midfield. He has done it repeatedly in the English Premier League and the Irish team will not be able to stop him from doing it now if the individual players haven’t been able to do it during the tournament.
- It’s been a while since Ireland was in this position. The pressure could get to them.
Pre-match prediction: Ireland 1 Croatia 0
A goalless or 1-1 draw wouldn’t surprise me. However, I think this is Ireland’s time. I expect Keane or Doyle to get a goal for Ireland. Look for Dunne and O’Shea to put a lot of pressure on Croatia on dead ball situations.