Euro 2012: 4 Reasons Why Croatia Will Provide a Shock and Escape from Group C
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Most of the talk surrounding Group C before the Euros kicked off was what order Spain and Italy would finish in the group.
Today's matches have shown us that it might not be that easy, and the dark horses of the group could be the talented Croatian team.
Tonight against an unusually sloppy Irish team, Croatia showed a level of slick passing and clinical finishing that could see them secure a quarterfinal spot at the expense of the Spaniards or Italians.
I'm going to look at four reasons why Croatia can provide us with a shock and qualify from Group C.
Italy Will Be Distracted by Issues at Home
Italy's Antonio Cassano in action against Spain earlier today
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For the second time in six years, domestic football in Italy is at the centre of another match-fixing scandal.
It happened during the World Cup in 2006 and it's happening again this year.
I don't know how the Italians manage to get themselves in this mess so often, but it has to take its toll on the squad, knowing that their teammates back home are under investigation for irregularities.
Some of you reading this will think, "That's true, but they won the World Cup in 2006 under the same circumstances."
They did win the World Cup that year, but there's one key difference between that side and the current squad: international experience.
The current squad only have a handful of players, like Cassano, Di Natale, De Rossi, Buffon and Chiellini, who have actually played under this scrutiny before.
Younger players like Balotelli, Abate, Diamante and Borini have never experienced a major tournament at this level before.
I just feel that everything surrounding the Italian camp will undermine the talent of the squad and Croatia are perfectly placed to take advantage.
The Spanish Will Fail to Live Up to Expectations
Spain's goalscorer against Italy, Cesc Fabregas
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Spain are the reigning European Champions and are widely regarded as one of the best pure footballing sides that international football has ever seen.
There's been something different surrounding the Spanish camp heading into these championships though.
The absence of Carlos Puyol and David Villa through injury leaves them weaker in defence and attack than they were at the last World Cup in South Africa.
Up front, most of their strikers, like Fernando Llorente, Pedro Rodriguez and Alvaro Negredo are relatively unproven in major tournaments, and that's before we include misfiring Chelsea striker Fernando Torres into the equation.
In tonight's match against Italy, Spain didn't go with a recognised striker up front. Cesc Fabregas was the focal point of the attack, allowing the creative midfielders like David Silva and Xavi Hernandez to interchange positions with him.
I just think that, without their talismanic players like Puyol and Villa, Spain won't walk this group and they could come unstuck against a Croatian side that has nothing to fear.
Nikica Jelavic Could Fire Them to Glory
Nikica Jelavic wheels away after breaking Irish hearts
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Nikica Jelavic has been one of Europe's form strikers over the last few seasons.
Since August 2010, Jelavic has played 58 club games and scored 39 goals.
That's impressive by anyone's standards.
Despite his appearance, Jelavic has tremendous ability. He holds the ball up well, he's skilful and he knows how to finish.
He's able to bring his teammates into the game and provides them with a tremendous outlet if they're under pressure.
His finish against Ireland earlier today showed him at his best.
Jelavic anticipated the chance coming to him and deftly clipped the ball over the despairing dive of Shay Given.
With players like Modric and Krancjar providing him with opportunities, Jelavic's recent form shows that he'll put away at least one chance every game.
That would be enough to see Croatia through to the latter stages of the tournament.
Their Squad Is United
Croatian Head Coach Slaven Bilic
One advantage Croatia have over everyone else is that they have a united squad.
I think that, in part, it's down to their coach, Slaven Bilic.
Bilic was an outstanding defender in his playing days and he was notorious for his firm, but fair, playing style, which he seems to have taken with him into management.
Whenever a job vacancy comes up across Europe, Bilic's name is never far away in terms of candidates.
There are other countries in this tournament, like England, Ireland and Italy, that have all had serious off-field incidents to deal with in the lead up to the Euros.
England's decision to leave Rio Ferdinand out of the squad in favour of taking John Terry could prove to be a divisive move, particularly amongst players who are unhappy with the impending court case against Terry.
The Irish camp was rocked by a late change in their squad when Paul McShane was drafted in to take the place of Kevin Foley.
I've already discussed the off-field problems that have plagued the Italian side, so there's no point in me going over those problems in detail.
Match-fixing allegations again threaten to undermine the Italian campaign.
Croatia come across as a squad of players that play for each other, for their manager and most importantly for their country.
There have been many examples over the years where team spirit has often carried unfancied domestic teams to glory.
If you add team spirit to the undoubted skill and talent that's rife through this Croatian side, then they've got every chance of making it out of Group C and into the latter stages of Euro 2012.