Key players: Eduardo, Nikica Jelavic, Darijo Srna
Manager: Slaven Bilić. A distinctive manager who has worked very well with the resources available to him with a win record of 67.80%. Since confirming his place as manager of Lokomotiv Moscow post Euro 2012, this is his last chance at an international trophy. If he does mind you, expect him to break out the electric guitar.
Star player: Luka Modric. Well known for his passing range and ability to dictate the flow of the game, Modric will be vital for Croatia’s hopes if they’re to achieve anything.
Young player: Ivan Perišić. Having had a first team spot for Borussia Dortmund all season, expectations will be high. Unproven at international level, Perišić has great pace and fantastic crossing ability.
Did you know? – Croatia have the youngest national football side at the Euros, having only existed since 1990, several years before they became an independent nation.
Can they win it? – In the same group as both Spain and Italy, the lack of depth in the Croatia squad could be a deciding weakness. That said, if their star players can perform, going into the knockout stages isn’t impossible.
Probable starting XI: GK Stipe Pletikosa; DEF Vedran Corluka, Gordon Schildenfeld, Josip Simunic, Ivan Strinic; MID Darijo Srna, Tomislav Dujmovic, Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar; FWD Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic.
Key players: Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Di Natale
Manager: After five successful years at Fiorentina, Cesare Prandelli was rewarded with replacing Marcelo Lippi as Azzurri manager. After a tough qualifying campaign which included the abandoned match against Serbia, Prandelli has guided a strong looking Italy side confidently to the finals and transformed them from the embarrassing flops of 2010.
Star player: Gianluigi Buffon. Having been there through the good times and bad, Buffon has seen it all. The Juventus shot stopper has remained a reliable constant for Italy and the World Cup winner will need to be at the top of his game to assure any success for the Azzurri.
Young player: Mario Ballotelli. It’s been an up and down season for the Man City man as his off field antics make the headlines more than his successes on the pitch. Despite his loose-cannon reputation, Balotelli possesses the talent to turn a game on its head; a definite one to watch.
Did you know? – The Italian league has been marred by suspicion of match fixing in recent weeks, the last time this suspicion was aroused about Serie A before a major tournament in 2006, Italy went on to win.
Can they win it? – With some serious big-tournament pedigree behind them the Italians can never be ruled out, whether or not they will bounce back from a dismal World Cup and fight through a difficult group stage will remain to be seen. A dangerous outsider.
Probable starting XI: GK Gigi Buffon; DEF Christian Maggio, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Balzaretti; MID Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; FWD Antonio Cassano; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale.
Republic of Ireland
Manager: The well-travelled Giovanni Trapattoni has more managerial experience than possibly any other manager at the tournament, which may serve Ireland well. ‘Il Trap’ has never successfully delivered Ireland to a major tournament in his four years as manager, narrowly missing out on the 2010 World Cup because of that hand ball incident.
Key players: Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Damien Duff
Star player: Robbie Keane. Rep. of Ireland’s captain and top scorer will need to use all of his experience to give his team any success. Capped 116 times scoring 53 goals for his country, Keane is the most successful Irish player in history and the first ever to score more than 50 goals internationally.
Young player: With nobody in the squad below age 23, Spartak Moskow’s Aiden McGeady at age 26 is the youngest and most serious threat on the right wing having scored twice in qualifying and setting up numerous chances.
Did you know? – When Ireland split into Rep. of Ireland and Northern Ireland there were two national teams playing under the title of Ireland until 1950 when FIFA ruled that there should be a team for each state on the island. 39 players represented both ‘Irelands’ until this point.
Can they win it? – The odds are stacked heavily against them as they have been dumped in a one of the toughest groups in the tournament with Spain, Italy and Croatia. Qualification to the knock-out rounds would be an outstanding achievement for the Republic of Ireland.
Probable starting XI: GK Shay Given; DEF John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Stephen Ward; MID Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Damien Duff; FWD Robbie Keane; Kevin Doyle.
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque; a manager with a proven track record at both national and international, was at the helm of the triumphant World Cup winning in team in 2010. A strong head in charge of arguably the most talented group of players in a generation, Del Bosque will have all the pressure on him to produce performances to rival those of the last two major tournaments. The injured David Villa is a big blow having been Del Bosque’s key man in the past, however don’t expect him to be replaced by an out-and-out striker, as Del Bosque sometimes prefers to deploy David Silva as a ‘false 9’.
Key players: Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique
Star player: Xavi. Arguably the best playmaker in the world and responsible for the team’s “passing carrousel” that has become a phenomenon in world football. Despite his relatively old age of 32, he is still, without doubt, world class.
Young player: Jordi Alba. A marauding winger taking over from the veteran Joan Capdevilla at left back, he has plenty of pace and great crossing ability to control the left flank.
Did you know? – Spain’s first and only World Cup win was against the Netherlands in 2010.
Can they win it? – Playing without one of the team’s leaders in Carles Puyol and talisman David Villa will be a challenge, but there are able replacements in the squad. Assuming their team is on form, there are few teams that can stop them.
Probable starting XI: GK Iker Casillas; DEF Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba; MID Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso; Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva; FWD Fernando Torres