Croatia v Spain, 19:45
Before the competition began there were some people wondering how the loss of David Villa would affect the Spanish system, and after the Italy game I think those questions had only got more difficult to ignore for Vicente Del Bosque. However, toward the end of that game Fernando Torres showed a little bit of class, and against Ireland formally announced his return to the team and the top level of football.
Now it is Croatia’s turn to chase the ball for the vast proportion of this game without ever getting a moment to rest when they do win it, but their manager will have them ready to run through walls for him even if he can’t make them the technical equal of their opponents. A draw of a certain quality would put both sides through, which is making the Italians of all people nervous about a fix, but I’d be surprised if the Spanish lose or draw tonight.
Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic will be assessed after getting a knock in the Italy game, and there could well be a change of system from the Croats. Spain’s Sergio Busquets has been passed fit following a scan on his foot, and Fernando Torres is expected to keep his place after scoring twice in the last match. Bet365 have 3/1 on Spain winning by a single goal, but the World and European Champions could well come under pressure from Croatia.
Italy v Ireland, 19:45
Italy didn’t come here with the best squad they’ve ever assembled, and given the way the fixtures were arranged I expect the management team were aware they may not have qualified after two games. However, the draw with Croatia was a bit of a let-down and they are now relying on results elsewhere to have a chance at the quarter-finals.
If the two other teams in the group achieve the correct draw Italy will be out, and while there are many who find the idea of Italian footballers complaining about a potential fix more than a little bit funny, it would be a shame if some fishiness went down. Ireland need to play well for the fans, who have given a huge amount of support to a team that so far has let them down, and the manager won’t want to be remembered as a totally failure either.
Mario Balotelli trained on Sunday after a knee problem but Italy coach Cessare Prandelli has suggested he may rest Balotelli, although Andrea Barzagli is finally expected to feature after missing the opening two matches with a calf problem. Damien Duff will captain Ireland on his 100th appearance for his country, and Kevin Doyle starts at the expense of Simon Cox in manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s only change. William Hill have 11/1 on a 3-1 win for Italy, but I think Ireland are capable of spoiling the Italian party.