Friday 24 February 2017

Ireland's Group C opponents

Spain: Winners: 1964, 2008

World Ranking: 1

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

Star Man: Xavi (Barcelona)

WORLD and European champions and the undisputed top team on the planet, Spain are bolstered by the best club team around, supplemented by their closest rivals and coached by a man with a proven track record. Few would bet against the holders next summer.

They have had their wobbles in friendlies, losing to Argentina, Portugal and England, but competitive football should see a return to form. A night of chasing shadows awaits in Gdansk on June 18.

Ireland v Spain: P24, W4, D7, L13

Qualifying Record: P8, W8

Outright Odds: 5/2

Group Odds: 4/7

ITALY

Winners: 1968

World Ranking: 9

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Star Man: Giampaolo Pazzini (Inter)

AFTER a disastrous World Cup, Cesare Prandelli was appointed as manager with a mandate for change and he's taken an axe to the generation of world champions.

The new breed secured qualification unbeaten in a tough group and Mario Balotelli has started to perform in recent friendlies. Much will be made of Ireland's record against the Azzurri under Giovanni Trapattoni and the win in Liege last summer will lift confidence, but the Italians rarely produce two poor tournament performances back to back.

Ireland v Italy: P10, W2, D2, L6

Qualifying Record: P10, W8, D2

Outright Odds: 16/1

Group Odds: 10/3

CROATIA

Semi-finalists: 2008

World Ranking: 8

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Star Man: Luca Modric (Spurs)

THE Croats showed their class when enjoying long periods of possession at Lansdowne Road recently and while there were signs that Slaven Bilic's management touch was wearing off, their play-off performance indicates there is life in the side yet.

They will be looking for a repeat of their 2008 performance and their fans will battle with the Irish for the most colourful tag. Much hinges on that opening night when stopping Modric will be crucial.

Ireland v Croatia: P5, W2, D2, L1

Qualifying Record: P10, W7, D1, L2

Outright Odds: 40/1

Group Odds: 6/1

Irish Independent

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