Euro 2012: Contests That Will Be Over by Halftime
Here's a look at why two upcoming Euro 2012 matches will be determined within the first half.
After two fantastic weeks of group stage fixtures, we have finally reached the last two days of the Euro 2012 group stages. Sweden and Republic of Ireland face an early exit, while England, France, Italy, Croatia and host nation Ukraine fight for the last four spots in the quarterfinals.
No longer does a simple win, draw or loss determine a nation's fate in a tournament, as goal difference and other statistics place a country head to head with its opposition.
Italy vs. Republic of Ireland
Italy must win in order to play in the quarterfinals. Plus, the Italians must hope Spain and Croatia do not draw at a score of 2-2 or higher.
Hence, Italian coach Cesare Prandelli must be prepared to prioritize his defensive and offensive strategies equally.
On Saturday, Mario Balotelli sustained a knee injury and will undergo tests to determine whether he is fit for the match. If not, then goal scorer Antonio Di Natale will start alongside Antonio Cassano as forwards.
Andrea Barzagli is scheduled to take a late fitness test this morning. The Juventus defender had missed two games of the Euros after he suffered a calf injury in a friendly against Russia earlier in June. If Barzagli is determined fit, Italy are expected to change their formation to 4-1-3-2 against Ireland to welcome back the World Cup winner.
As the Republic of Ireland have already been eliminated, it is not expected that they will bring any new surprises to the table. Ireland, at most, will be playing for pride.
Ireland lost 4-0 to Spain and 1-3 to Croatia and are still at zero points on the table. If the Italians go into the first half by attacking relentlessly and retain position, the first half should decide the match.
Prediction: Italy 2-1 Ireland (2:0).
Sweden vs. France
France will need to avoid a loss in order to continue to the quarterfinals. If both France and England lose their respective matches on Tuesday, then the two teams will go head to head on goal difference and other statistics.
As France can hypothetically afford a draw or loss, they may choose to play based on who they face in the quarterfinals. If France top Group D, then they may face a tactical match against Spain.
However, if France place second, they may face a daunting physical match against Italy or Croatia. Coach Laurent Blanc may use the results of Group C to determine the result of the match early on in the game.
Sweden may not put up much of a fight, either.
Zlatan Ibrahimović must be feeling slightly crushed by the disappointment of two consecutive losses that led the Swedes out of the competition early. The media had placed a hefty load of high expectations and raised constant qualms over Ibrahimovic after his pleasant but unrewarded season at AC Milan.
The Swedish skipper may be relieved by the lack of pressure this Tuesday. Ibrahimovic may not put much effort into this game, as he may already be looking forward to the World Cup 2014 for redemption. Via TSN:
At a news conference Sunday, Ibrahimovic said, "I'll continue with the national team, absolutely," adding that "I'm still motivated and I want a lot more."
France have won four (and drew one) of their last five matches. Sweden have won three and lost two of their last five games.
Prediction: Sweden 1-3 France (1:2).