If there is one team in Group C of the Euro Cup in trouble of a major disappointment, it is Italy.
Spain is as close to being a lock to advance out of this group as you'll get, with nearly enough talent to field two elite squads. There is little pressure on Ireland, as it would be a major shocker if the country advanced.
Which means the second spot in the quarterfinals will come down to Italy and Croatia.
Italy comes into this tournament facing a number of distractions. There is the match-fixing scandal that implicated Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, Juventus coach Antonio Conte and Domenico Criscito, keeping him off the Italian Euro roster.
There is also the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks that rocked the Emilia-Romagna region, which is surely weighing heavily on the minds of the Italian team.
Then there are the injuries. Striker Giuseppe Rossi is out of the tournament and Andrea Barzagli will miss the first two matches. That means Mario Balotelli will be leaned on heavily in this tournament, which is always a risky proposition given the mercurial nature of the talented striker.
Which team will join Spain in the quarterfinals?
And let's not forget that this Italian side wilted in its last major competition, the 2010 World Cup, finishing last in its group.
Plus, it isn't as though Italy comes into this tournament on a recent run of success. Far from it—they've dropped three straight friendlies by a combined score of 5-0.
When you consider that they open play in Group C against mighty Spain and could be humbled very early in this tournament, Italy could limp into the last two games of group play with little momentum and less confidence.
That, in turn, would open the door for Croatia and perhaps even Ireland to claw its way out of this group.
I'm betting on Croatia pulling off the surprise and joining Spain in the quarterfinals. Talented as they are, the Italians carry some large burdens into play. They won't go down without a fight, but they will go down as one of the biggest disappointments at the 2012 Euros.
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