Their seems to be an air of inevitability surrounding Group C, what with defending champion Spain expected to win the group and Italy projected to finish second. While that forecast seems reasonable, it's tough to guarantee that this group will be so predictable.
Yes, Spain still enters the Euros as the tournament favorite, and it's tough to see them not topping this group, but the rest is tough to call when you consider all that Italy has been through with the recent distraction of a national match-fixing scandal (not to mention some key injuries).
Ireland will have plenty of fans, and not just the folks from the Emerald Isle. If there is an underdog that is easy to root for in this tournament, it's the Irish, and they have the weapons to make things interesting in Group C.
Croatia might be overlooked by some, but do so at your own peril. The famed checker board shirts will boast some impressive talent and with Luka Modric pulling the strings there is absolutely no reason why the Croatians can't advance to the knockout rounds.
Here is a closer look at Group C:
Schedule (Times Eastern)
Sunday- Spain vs. Italy (ESPN, ESPN3.com), Noon
Sunday- Ireland vs. Croatia (ESPN, ESPN3.com), 2:45pm
Thursday- Italy vs. Croatia (ESPN2, ESPN3.com), Noon
Thursday- Spain vs. Ireland (ESPN2, ESPN3.com), 2:45pm
Monday, June 18th- Croatia vs. Spain (ESPN, ESPN3.com), 2:45pm
Monday, June 18th- Italy vs. Ireland (ESPN2, ESPN3.com), 2:45pm
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Iker Casillas
NAME TO LEARN– Jordi Alba. The 23-year-old Valencia left back should provide a dynamic element on the left flank and will provide some necessary width for a Spain attack that will centrally focused.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Manuel 'Pepe' Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).
Defenders: Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Jordi Alba (Valencia), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao).
Midfielders: Xavi (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Forwards: Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla)
OUTLOOK– It's tough to see Spain doing anything but getting to the final, but the real question will be whether the Spain forwards can finish the chances their playmakers are sure to create. Fernando Torres should have a chance to shine, but if he falters it will be up to a striker like Fernando Llorente to step up. As long as a reliable goal scorer an emerge to fill the void left by David Villa's absence then Spain are the pick to win it all again.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini
NAME TO LEARN– Mario Balotelli. Yes, you surely already know that name, but on an Italy side with few quality young options, Balotelli has the best chance of being the young star to lead the Azzurri. Want a name you may not have heard before? How about tiny forward Sebastian Giovinco?
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain).
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino).
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Ricardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Fabio Borini (Roma), Antonio Cassano (Milan), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma).
OUTLOOK– The match-fixing scandal, and the injuries to the defense, have not set up the Italians with a good climate in camp. This could lead to a slow start to the tournament and potential group stage elimination. If manager Cesare Prandelli can find the right defensive lineup to keep opponents flustered, and if Balotelli can score goals rather than draw red cards, Italy should be able to advance as the second place team in the group. If the defensive injuries prove too much to overcome, and if Balotelli starts misbehaving, Italy will be gone early.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Niko Kranjcar, Daniel Pranjic
NAME TO LEARN– Ivan Perisic. Yet another talented young Borussia Dortmund player, Peresic is a dynamic flank player who should be able to stretch defenses and give Modric more room to operate
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Danijel Subasic (AS Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa).
Midfielders: Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Tomislav Dujmovic (Zaragoza), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg SV).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo Da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Nikola Kalinic (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk).
OUTLOOK– The Croatians have plenty of midfield quality, and a better than average defense, so with players like Modric, Perisic and Ivan Rakitic leading the charge, there is no reason the Croatians can't be the team to capitalize on Italy's struggles. The key for the Croatians will be a forward like Nikica Jelavic stepping up and giving the attack a dependable threat. Much like Spain, the Croatia midfield will create chances, but unless those chances are finished off, the Croatians will wind up just missing out.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Shay Given, Kevin Doyle
NAME TO LEARN– James McLean. The young Sunderland winger isn't projected to start, but he will definitely be pushing for a bigger role and he has shown enough in recent friendlies to project him as a potential surprise for the Irish.
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Aston Villa), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), David Forde (Millwall).
Defenders: John O'Shea (Sunderland), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Stephen Ward (Wolves), Kevin Foley (Wolves), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Darren O'Dea (Celtic).
Midfielders: Keith Andrews (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), Darron Gibson (Everton), Damien Duff (Fulham), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Stephen Hunt (Wolves), Keith Fahey (Birmingham), James McClean (Sunderland).
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Shane Long (West Brom), Simon Cox (West Brom), Jonathan Walters (Stoke).
OUTLOOK– The Irish have some key veteran leaders, and nobody will work harder, but it will still likely take a meltdown from Italy and Croatia for Ireland to survive to the group stage. It's always difficult to bet against master manager Giovanni Trappatoni coming up with a good plan, but while the Irish should make every match tough, it's tough to see them advancing.