Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - Italy v Republic of Ireland

Italian perspective: Paolo Bandini

The fear in Italy is that this game may prove meaningless. Should Spain and Croatia draw with a scoreline of 2-2 or higher then they shall both progress at the Azzurri’s expense. Having been eliminated under identical conditions by Denmark and Sweden in 2004, it is safe to assume much of the country will be paying closer attention to what goes on in that fixture than their own.

There is a danger, though, of becoming distracted in such circumstances from the task at hand. The result between Spain and Croatia only becomes relevant if Italy beat the Republic of Ireland; despite the disappointing performances from Giovanni Trapattoni’s side at this tournament, that should not be taken for granted. After all, Trapattoni (who, in a quirk of fate, was the man in charge of Italy in 2004) is unbeaten in three meetings with his home country since taking up the Ireland job.

Having decided at the last minute to change to a 3-5-2 before this tournament, the Italy manager Cesare Prandelli appears to be preparing to revert for this fixture to the 4-3-1-2 that saw his team through qualifying. To facilitate the switch he may introduce Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti at full-back. Andrea Barzagli should make his first start of the tournament at centre-back after recovering from a calf injury. Alessandro Diamanti, who has impressed in training, could also make an appearance.

But the most popular move may be the introduction of Antonio Di Natale up front in place of Mario Balotelli. Many have been calling for the Udinese striker to start ever since his goal against Spain in the tournament opener, but Prandelli’s hand was forced after Balotelli picked up minor knock on Saturday. Di Natale is the leading international goalscorer in this squad with a modest 11 goals. Italy will be looking to him to ensure that they at least do all they can to secure their passage to the next round.

Score prediction: Italy 1-0 Republic of Ireland

Under 2.5 goals at 2.15; Di Natale to score first at 4.3; Italy 1-0 at 7.25.


Irish perspective: Bryan Nicholson

The Irish may not be able to qualify from group C but don't expect the Italians to get an easy ride in the final group game. If there's one country in world football where pride really matters, it's Ireland. The last thing the Irish players want is to return home without any points in the bag, and they are desperate to give the army of fans – who were absolutely magnificent in defeat against Spain – something to cheer. Anyone thinking the Italians just have to turn up may be surprised.

A sub-plot to the storyline is of course the man at the helm for Ireland. Reports coming out of the Italian camp pre-tournament suggested that they were not looking forward to facing their old manager. Indeed, Giovanni Trapatonni has masterminded a win and two draws against his home nation in recent times. The Boys in Green may do Spain and Croatia a favour by grabbing another point here.

Trap will revert back to his original starting eleven, with Kevin Doyle returning to partner Robbie Keane up front and Simon Cox dropping to the bench once again. Damien Duff will captain the side on his 100th appearance, and will hope to celebrate his international career in style.

If the Irish manage not to concede early goal in this one and the old determination returns, Italy may struggle to break them down. Again, expect Italy to have most of the possession but with the pressure now off, Ireland could pose a real threat of their own going forward. Aiden McGeady may the one to watch, exploiting space in behind the full backs with his pace as the Italians go all out for three points.

Score prediction: Italy 1-1 Republic of Ireland (11.5)

Under 2.5 goals at 2.15; total first half goals under 1.5 at 1.50; Damien Duff to score anytime at 10.5.