Italy gave birth to the convenient result. If a draw suits both teams toward the season’s end, bet heavily on it. Seeing Spain and Croatia conspire for a 2-2 draw to eliminate the Italians no matter the Ireland result, a “biscotto” in Italian terminology, would evoke some wry pleasure, except the precise scenario already happened to them at Euro 2004.
Both Denmark and Sweden drew Italy and beat Bulgaria in the first two matches, putting them on four points and Italy on two heading into the final match. A 2-2 draw would send Italy home even if they beat Bulgaria. A 2-2 draw was the result. There would be an outcry if it happened again. Italy has spent the break assuring the media of Spain’s sportsmanship (and ratcheting up the pressure for them to live up to it).
Italy is Spain’s bogey team. Even after enhancing their international standing with wins at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain still seemed relieved to escape their match against Italy with a draw. Knocking them out of the tournament might be tempting. So, however, might leaving them in the tournament as a potential semifinal impediment for the Germans.
Nothing will be fixed and no one, seriously, is anticipating that. However, if by some means the score reaches 2-2 with 20 minutes left, don’t expect either team to do something silly.
Here are the advancement scenarios.
Spain: The Spanish win the group by beating CRO. They advance and most likely win the group by drawing CRO. They can advance with a loss if ITA loses or draws to IRE. Spain is eliminated with a loss and an ITA win.
Croatia: Croatia win the group by beating SPA. They can advance (a) with a 1-1 draw if Italy achieves less than a two-goal win or fails to score three (b) a 2-2 draw or (c) a loss and ITA losing or drawing to IRE. A loss and ITA win or a 0-0 draw and an ITA win eliminates them.
Italy: Italy must win and (a) have SPA or CRO win (b) have SPA or CRO draw 0-0 winning them the group or (c) beat IRE by at least two goals while scoring three to offset a SPA and CRO 1-1 draw. A loss to IRE, a draw to IRE or a 2-2 draw between SPA and CRO eliminates them.
Three Team Tie [SPA/CRO/ITA on 5pts] If Italy wins and Spain and Croatia draw, the three teams finish level on five. The Ireland results would be thrown out. The teams would be even on mini group points and goal differences. Here are the possible scenarios.
(a) Spain and Croatia draw 0-0. ITA wins the group on goals scored within the mini group. SPA finishes second over CRO on total goal difference.
(b) Spain and Croatia draw 1-1. Teams are completely even in mini group. SPA advances, wins group on total goal difference unless ITA beats IRE by four or more and scores at least five. CRO advances on either total goal difference or goals scored unless ITA scores at least three goals and wins by at least two. A 3-1 ITA win puts ITA through on UEFA Coefficient.
(c) Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 or higher. ITA eliminated on mini group goals scored. SPA wins group on total goal difference. CRO advances.
Italy vs. Ireland: Ireland have nothing to play for except pride. They value their pride more than most. Ireland’s coach, Giovanni Trapatoni is undefeated against his home country in three meetings with Ireland and he coached Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli when he was at Juventus. The Italians also have a hard time scoring goals and adjusting to break down teams that stop them from scoring goals.
Spain vs. Croatia: If everything is above board, Spain should overwhelm Croatia. Italy are simpler to counter. If you close down Andrea Pirlo, they will have trouble coming up with a plan B. Croatia didn’t in the first half and Italy played well. They did in the second half and Italy spent most of it on the back foot. Spain has multiple creative outlets in midfield. If Fernando Torres’ Ireland form was a portent for what’s coming, the Spanish are in a very good place right now. Croatia needs to get the ball forward quickly on counterattacks. Spain’s pressing should stop them from doing so.
Prediction: Spain and Italy win and go through to the quarterfinals.
[Photos via Getty]