By Rob Dore
Group C betting preview: Spain v Italy Sunday, 5pm (BBC and RTE2)
Both teams qualified for Euro 2012 with considerable ease, Spain finishing 11 points clear at the top of their group, Italy finishing 10 clear.
However, their preparations since qualifying have not gone as smoothly. Spain are missing their defensive leader, Carles Puyol (34), and most importantly their top goalscorer, David Villa (30), with both players unable to recover from injury in time. Villa’s absence could be massive for Spain. The Barcelona striker was the top scorer in Euro 2008 and joint top scorer at World Cup 2010. Fernando Torres (28) will be expected to step in to the breach but if he, or another of Spain’s strikers fail to replace Villa’s goals and presence up front, the defending champs may struggle.
It seems a match fixing scandal is never too far from breaking in Italian football and the latest incident led to the removal of defender Domenico Criscito (25) from the squad. So common have these incidents become that the story has failed to gain the headlines of scandals past. As things stand, it’s unlikely to have too great an impact on Italy’s chances. The Azzuri had an excellent defensive record in qualifying, conceding just two goals. Without the range of attacking talent Spain, Germany and the Netherlands possess Cesare Prandelli is likely to play ‘very Italian’ style football. Which means focusing on not losing first.
This game looks set to be a case of defense versus attack. Italy will work hard to contain Spain, cutting down on the passing options available to Xavi Hernandez (32), Andres Iniesta (28) and Xabi Alonso (30) as they move in to the Italian half. Not having to deal with the movement of David Villa up front will make things a little easier for the Italian backline. We here on the Paddy Power Blog can see it going either way so despite Spain being strong favorites at 5/6, we’re going to sit on the fence and back the draw at 5/2. That’s a result Prandelli will gladly take.
A Correct Score stab in the dark
Having backed the draw we’re going to have to stick with that. For all of Italy’s defensive leanings they will still be a goal threat on occasion and we can see both sides getting on the scoresheet. 1-1 returns a healthy profit at 11/2.
A goalscorer bet to look out for
With Villa out the focus will be on Fernando Torres, with the Chelsea man joint favorite to score first at 11/2. That’s too obvious though. If Mario Balotelli (21) starts then he is the one Italian player who can create and finish off an opportunity by himself. Mad Mario is 10/1 to score first and 4/1 to score anytime.
Something a bit random
We have seen some erratic refereeing already in the tournament and with 11 Italians and 11 Spaniards on the same pitch we’re sure to see more than the standard level of ‘professionalism’ and ‘simulation’. Fouling and diving. You can back over 60 points in the card index at 16/5. It’s a big total but these two sides have what it takes to reach it.