Blog Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
The end of an era: This loss officially closes the book on the Vicente Del Bosque reign. It was a magical six years that included a Euro Cup and Spain’s very first World Cup, but unfortunately, a lack of imagination and the ability to adapt, did him in. It seemed like everything needed to go right for the ball to hit the back of the net.
A perfect pass.
A perfect cross.
A perfect shot.
Sometimes you just need to be able to produce a score out of nothing. Pure individual brilliance that shines through from out of the shadows. David Villa was that light and nobody has been able to replicate it since.
Where were the kids? Spain may take years to recover from this. The failure after the 2012 Euro’s to evolve or integrate youth into the ranks transformed La Roja into a slow and inconsistent side. Del Bosque picked his favorites, overlooking their atrocious form on the club level, to not feature players such as Isco and Thiago who should've played more after their U-21 success. There was a lack of energy in this side that was apparent to even the most amateur fan. Maybe the hunger that drove this generation to end 44 years of misery and mockery faded away on that starry night in Kiev.
The Italian’s and Conte put on a technical master class: So much for the the pundits eh? Heart, passion and will are things that can never be measured, and Conte extracted every last drop of it from this roster. Players who were almost laughed off the selection sheet were the ones left smiling. Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini caused the Spanish back line problems all game with their pace and link up play. If it weren’t for the stellar play of David De Gea, the score could've been much, much, worse.
Onto the world champions: Italy now get a date with Germany in the quarter-finals on Saturday July 2. They will again go in as underdogs, but have the strength of history behind them. Italy have never lost to the Germans in a major competition (4 wins and 4 draws), and will not be looking to start now. Italy are winning as they always do -- with grit, defense and passion and if Germany are not careful, they will be their latest victim.
Euro 2016 - Round of 16
Monday, June 27th, 2016
Kick-off: 12:00 PM EST
Venue: Stade de France (Paris)
Collab Blog by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial) and Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
Head to head
Italy has failed to defeat Spain in the last 5 meetings between the sides, with 3 wins for the Spanish and two draws. The last time the Azzurri defeated La Roja in a competitive game was all the way back in the 1994 edition of the World Cup in the United States. Roberto Baggio scored a late second half goal for a 2-1 win that progressed the Italians into the semifinal.
These sides have met in the knockout rounds in the last two editions of the Euro Cup, with Spain advancing on penalties in 2008, and once again in the 2012 final by a score of 4-0, the widest margin of victory in any European Championship final.
How we got here:
The Azzurri came off a terrible showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Antonio Conte replaced Cesare Prandelli on the bench and led Italy to an undefeated Euro qualifying campaign. Conte received some criticism for some exclusions of the squad he brought to France. But an opening 2-0 win over group favorites, Belgium, and a stern one goal victory over Sweden have silenced the critics. Italy secured first place in Group E after playing two matches and then lost to Ireland 1-0 in their last match. The Italians really only looked impressive in their first match so it is to be seen if Conte will have his side up to the task.
Like the Azzurri, Spain's title defense at the 2014 World Cup was an absolute disaster. Gone in the group stages with more questions than answers, La Roja needed to adapt. Despite pressure in the tabloids, and from fans, the Spanish federation decided to retain manager Vicente del Bosque in good faith over his past triumphs. Although they began with a somewhat troubling start, Spain breezed through qualification to easily win their group. Like Conte, Del Bosque made some controversial selections for the Euro’s by leaving players such as Juan Mata and Isco behind. Any doubts were quickly extinguished, as Spain swept aside the Czech Republic and Turkey by an aggregate score of 4-0 playing with a flare and adoration that we had come to expect in recent times. But optimism was quickly tempered as Croatia stunned the Spanish in the final group game, winning the group, and sending Spain to the death part of the bracket in the process.
What is the key to a victory for Spain?
Sandro: Be dynamic in attack. Conte’s side could probably handle tiki-taka down the middle of the field quite well. Spain needs to move the ball quickly and look to get some crosses in. Movement off the ball will be key to break down the Italian defense.
Justin: As my esteemed colleague Sandro mentioned, Spain must play with pace and purpose. Keeping the ball in the center of the park and standing around will only play into Italy's strengths, as the Juventus led back line of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli are about as penetrable as Fort Knox. Jordi Alba and Juanfran will be critical, as their masquerading runs down the flanks provide outlets for crosses and link-up play. At the same time, both can't neglect their defensive duties allowing Italy to hit back on the counter the way Croatia did. I'll be looking for Spain to replicate the game plan that was so successful against the Turks, with the ball being pushed forward through the center backs allowing more movement for the midfield.
What is the key to a victory for Italy?
Sandro: Discipline. Italy will need to be solid and compact defensively, not giving Spain time and space on the ball will be vital. I think we’ll see Conte have his time play in a similar fashion as they did against Belgium; allow the opponent to have possession but not allow them many opportunities and attack mostly with speed on the counter. Spain’s performance against Croatia showed they can be a bit vulnerable at the back while Italy definitely have the ability to attack dangerously, creating good chances. They’ll need to play as a cohesive unit and play with energy and passion.
Justin: Let's face it, this Italian attack is about as lethal as a garden snake. The days of Andrea Pirlo's superhuman vision or Roberto Baggio’s eloquent brilliance are long gone. This version relies on an attack that features much less possession, but taking advantage of the other teams errors. Against Croatia, Spain looked extremely susceptible to the counter and set pieces. Sergio Ramos is good for at least one foul in a dangerous area per game, so Italy must take advantage when these opportunities present themselves. We know the defense -- which is arguably the finest in this tournament -- will keep them in the game. With Antonio Candreva likely to miss out after picking up a knock against Sweden, the onus will be on players such as Giaccherini and Marco Parolo to use their pace to stretch the Spanish back line.
Which players will be the deciding factor?
Sandro: Buffon and Bonucci defensively for the Italians, which goes without saying. Bonucci needs to keep the defense organized and hopefully can ping balls going forward like he did against Belgium. De Rossi will need to be up to the task for this big game, closing passing lanes and intercepting passes in front of the back line. In a big loss, Antonio Candreva will miss the match with an injury. It remains to be seen if Conte will play with a more defensive or more attacking right wing back. And most importantly for Italy is they absolutely must finish their chances, whether it’s Pellé, Eder, Giaccherini or anyone else. The Azzurri might not have too many chances so they must put the ball in the back of the net when they have the opportunity.
For Spain, obviously it has been Iniesta pulling the strings so far and I expect him to continue that. He might be able to break down the stellar Italian defense and find that killer pass. Alvaro Morata will also be a key man for Vicente Del Bosque’s side. He’s familiar with all his former Juve teammates and will look to be a menace leading the Spanish attack.
Justin: For Italy, I believe the player to watch is De Rossi. He will be tasked with marking Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, two players who have given him fits in the past. It is imperative that the Roman limits their space and makes them feel his presence. For all of their brilliance, the diminutive Spaniards aren't keen to the opposition imposing their physicality. As a whole, the Azzurri must retain their focus and keep the side compact. If anyone tries to play hero and steps out of their limits (looking at you Giaccherini) it could prove to be fatal.
I'm not sure if that was David de Gea or Iker Casillas reincarnated, but the goalkeeper's performance against Croatia brought back nightmares of Brazil. The Manchester United man committed more errors than I can count on one hand, which fortunately, didn't result in at least two more goals for the Croats. Roughly 115 yards away, he will be staring into the eyes of possibly the greatest keeper of all time in Gianluigi Buffon. He has been in this spot and on this stage more than he can remember. De Gea, meanwhile, remains an unknown. He has never gone far in the Champions League, and is leading the Spanish national team into a crucial match for the very first time. It is imperative that he cleans up his mistakes and plays confident when called into action.
Who has the edge in the coaches box?
Sandro: I’ll put my faith in Conte for this one. Nobody can get his team more prepared for a single match than the former Juve coach. Being the underdog also plays perfectly into his plans. Conte will have this team fired up to leave it all on the field, with non-stop grinta.
Justin: This one is extremely tough to call.
Antonio Conte is a brilliant tactician, who combines a winning mentality and the ability to foster great team spirit amongst his players. You know the Italians will be out for blood in an effort to avenge their embarrassing defeat in Kiev, and will come out with an energy and passion that will be tough for even the most die hard supporter to match.
With that said, I must still give the slightest of edges to Del Bosque. He remains the only manager in history to have won the Champions League, the European Championship and the World Cup. He may not be fiery -- and quite frankly, looks like a cigar shop owner on the coast of Mallorca -- but he knows how to win. He embodies a quiet confidence and loyalty that his players believe in. Look for Spain to be much more decisive and clear with their game plan going into Paris.
Which country has the better food?
Sandro: Italy. Period. Next Question.
Justin: My mother’s paella would kindly disagree with you sir, but if loading up on carbs day-in and day-out is your thing, Bon appetit.
Sandro: Italy plays better in big games against big teams, with Belgium being the most recent example. Candreva being out really puts a damper on my hopes for Italy to pull through. But I think it will be 1-1 after 90 minutes, with Italy winning it in Extra Time or penalties. Morata and Florenzi to score the goals.
Justin: It’s a matchup fit for a final and one I wholeheartedly wanted to avoid. Italy will be completely content in having the Spanish dominate possession by passing side-to-side, and striking on the counter with an over the top ball. I believe one will get through off the boot of Graziano Pelle, but Spain will equalize via Jordi Alba to send it to extra time, eventually leading to penalties. The 2008 edition will repeat itself once more, as Spain advance (5-4) and all of us need heart transplants.
Blog Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
As the final embers burnt out off the flaming dumpster fire that was the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Spanish National side was forced to look in the mirror.
After winning an unprecedented three major international tournaments in a row, tiki-taka had finally been caught up to and old veterans, who were once so vital to the side's success, were just that, old. With two years to get ready for Euro 2016, coach Vicente Del Bosque would have to go back to the lab and alter his monster.
The first order of business was to decide on a striker, or let alone use one.
Anyone with a pair of functioning eyeballs could see that the Diego Costa experiment was an unmitigated disaster. Costa's aggressive battering ram approach was completely counter-productive to the Spanish system. This involves a short passing game that depends on fast, accurate, non-stop passes to draw defenders out of position and force opponents into making errors, while Costa wants the ball played over the top to chase like a dog after the postman.
Much of Spain's Euro 2012 success was owed to the brilliance of players like David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Pedro, who brought the "false-nine" and made it a household name. Rather than having a striker occupy the attentions of the defense, Del Bosque played none, giving Spain an extra man to pass the ball and, as we saw in the Euro 2012 final, gave Italy’s back line nightmares for years to come.
Still, that was 4 years ago and defensive systems have evolved.
Del Bosque instead decided to call-up a player who could pass and move -- an out-and-out striker -- Alvaro Morata.
Although the Juventus forward was relegated to reserve duty for most of the league season, his knack for coming up big on the brightest stages and general understanding of the Spanish system was crucial, evidenced further by his tie with Gareth Bale for the lead in goals at the Euro’s, each with three so far.
Another subtle, yet critical change was the way in which the attack would develop.
So far this tournament, Spain has made a concentrated effort to attack down the wings and not just from the fullbacks. They seemingly make a triangle on both sides of the pitch - Nolito, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba on one - and Juanfran, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas on the other. This allows short passing outlets and give-and-go opportunities that force the defense to remain focused at all times.
Also, instead of asking the central midfielders to fall back deep and start the attacks, Del Bosque has given more and more responsibility to the centre-backs. Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta now have to wait for the ball in between the lines instead of going into their half to participate in the build-up. This allows La Roja to keep the pace of play to their liking, giving the team more options to pass forward.
The midfield also seems to have been given direct instruction from the staff to become more aggressive. In years past, a common complaint from pundits, and fans alike, was that Spain had the tendency to over pass. Players are now taking more shots from outside of the box, opening up the possibility for rebounds or the occasional goalkeeper mistake.
Unfortunately, the Croatia game revealed old habits.
Few saw this coming, as Spain had delivered two convincing wins and had neither dropped points nor conceded a goal in 10 competitive matches. Vicente del Bosque also kept his lineup intact from the previous two games, whereas Croatia made five changes from their strongest XI, with Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic out injured.
It appeared to be business as usual, when in the 7th minute David Silva moved from the right to the infield, before laying off a beautiful through ball to Cesc who chipped it over the keeper to find Morata at the far post. It was a beautiful goal and one that had earned the Spaniards the favourite’s tag once again.
From there, Croatia altered their philosophy, amping up the pressure and closing down the space for Spain’s midfield to navigate. Whether it was fatigue or just old legs, Spain reverted back to it’s passing without movement becoming almost complacent. Croatia's quick transitions and wide play abused the high positioning of the Spanish fullbacks, with nobody taking advantage more than Ivan Perisic.
The loss was a crushing blow for the Spanish in more ways than one. The top spot in Group D was lost, as well as a place on the “easy” side of the bracket. Instead, Italy awaits on the horizon, with the prospect of Germany and France looming in succession.
Yeah, about as fun as eating a ghost pepper.
So, was this just a bump in the road or a blueprint of things to come? I’d be lying if I had the answer, but I do know this.
The final at the Stade de France feels further away now and their body language hinted at defeat. It was, oddly, like they were already eliminated. Perhaps because of the moment and the manner in which they lost. David De Gea’s performance didn’t help instill much confidence either.
"This is not the path we wanted, it is true," Del Bosque admitted. "We have to change this but we're still in the Euros and we can turn this situation around.”
Spain’s international resurrection began 8 years prior at this very tournament, and against this very opponent.
What better time to repeat history once again.
Blog Written by Sahil Mehra (@VivaLaDiego):
Regardless of whether Atletico Madrid emerged victorious after the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Milan, Diego Simeone's side had already done more than enough to establish themselves as one of the best teams in Spain and Europe. While a loss to Levante meant the squad fell short in La Liga, this was a team more in tune with their coach's philosophy than the one that won the league back in the 2013/14 campaign.
The 2015-2016 season was Atletico Madrid's 85th season in existence and the club's 79th season in Spain’s first division, La Liga. The season for the club began on July 25, 2015 and ended on May 28, 2016.
Atletico were a bit busy in the transfer market in the month of June last year. In the middle of the month it was confirmed that Mario Mandzukic would leave the club for Juventus, which was heart-breaking news for the Atletico fans. In a few day span it was confirmed that Luciano Vietto and Jackson Martinez would also join the Madrid side for the upcoming campaign while the likes of Leo Baptistao and Miranda would leave the club.
In the month of July the transfer of players such as Arda Turan, Miranda, Mario Suarez, Toby Alderweireld from the club were confirmed. At the same time Atletico signed new players in order to strengthen their squad for the upcoming season. The players that joined Atletico in July were: Luciano Vietto, Yannick Carrasco, and Stefan Savic. The club also signed ex-player Filipe Luis, who returned to the Spanish side after just one season with West London club, Chelsea.
August marked the departure of Atletico's Mexican striker Raul Jimenez to Portuguese side, Benfica. August also saw the Spanish club lifting their tenth Carranza trophy after defeating Real Betis in the final. Atletico's league campaign started on 22nd of August against Las Palmas at the Calderon. Atletico won that game thanks to a goal from Antoinne Griezmann. A few days later the Spanish side was drawn in the Group C of the Champions League along with Portuguese Champions, Benfica, Turkish champions, Galatasaray and Kazakh champions Astana.
Atletico won their second game of the season against Sevilla 3-0 thanks to goals from Koke, Gabi and Jackson Martinez. On the very last day of the summer transfer window, the club saw the departure of club legend Raul Garcia to Athletic Bilbao and also the arrival of Matias Kranevitter from River Plate.
The month of September was a bit of a bumpy ride for the Spanish side after losses against FC Barcelona and Benfica at the Vicente Calderon Stadium. The club also saw wins against Galatasaray and Eibar. The club also lost against Villarreal, thanks to the goal from ex Atletico man Leo Baptistao deciding the match.
The month of October saw the first Madrid derby of the season at the Calderon. The match ended in a 1-1 draw with goals from Karim Benzema and Luciano Vietto. The month also saw wins against Real Sociadad and Valenica. The club played its third match in the Champions League against Kazak Champions, Astana. The Spanish side ended up winning that game easily 4-0.
November was a good month for the Spanish side as the club saw wins against Sporting Gijon, Real Betis and Espanyol as the club moved to the second spot in La Liga. The club also won against Turkish Champions, Galatasaray, 2-0 at the Calderon and saw them qualify for the Champions League Round of 16.
As the season entered into the month of December, Atletico defeated Granada 2-0, away from home making it their sixth consecutive win in the Spanish Liga. A 2-1 win against Athletic Bibao ensured the club moved to the top spot in the La Liga. In the middle of the month, the Spanish side was draw against Dutch side PSV in the Champions League Round of 16 tie. Atletico then secured three very important points against Rayo Vallecano to finish off the year 2015 in brilliant style, thanks to goals from Griezmann and Angel Correa.
On the very first day of the January transfer window, the Spanish club announced that they had reached an agreement with Celta Vigo for the transfer of Argentine midfielder, Augusto Fernandez. The club started the new year with an impressive 1-0 win against Levante at Vincente Calderon. The club progressed to the Copa del Rey competition with a 4-1 aggregate victory over Rayo. Despite goals from Griezmann and Correa, the club fell to a 2-3 loss against Celta, knocking the club out of the competition.
The month of February started off with Atletico's striker Jackson Martinez departing from the club for Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande for a hefty fee. The club's old and loving boy, Fernando Torres scored his 100th goal for the club in a victory against Getafe. In the second Madrid derby of the season, Atletico defeated Real Madrid away from home, thanks to a Griezmann goal.
March was an impressive month for Atletico, with the Spanish club defeating Real Sociadad, Valencia and Deportivo in the Spanish Liga. The club also defeated Dutch side, PSV, in the Round of 16 match-up in a penalty shootout after both legs ended 0-0.
The month of April saw pretty impressive performance from the Spanish side in the Champions League. Even though losing to FC Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of the quarterfinals, they rebounded and won 2-0 at home in the second leg, thanks to a brace from star striker, Antoinne Griezmann. The club also defeated German Champions, Bayern Munich in the first leg of the semifinal at the Calderon, thanks to a Saul Niguez goal.
May ended up being a disappointing month for the Spanish side. Even though they defeated Bayern Munich on away goals and progressed to the Champions League Final, they eventually lost to Levante, which ended their remaining hopes of lifting the La Liga trophy. Diego Simeone and his squad also lost the Champions league Final against archrivals, Real Madrid, in Milan on penalties.
Although Atletico did not win any major trophies this season, they performed well enough throughout the year to hold their heads high.
Blog Written by Felipe Pachon (@Feliplesoccerboi):
With the Copa America group stage completed, we now arrive at the quarterfinal stage. All four games are of very high competition and with talent everywhere. The matches begin tonight with the host nation, the USA, taking on Ecuador. Friday brings us Peru vs. Colombia, with Colombia being the favorite. And on Saturday there is a double-header to conclude the stage with Argentina vs., surprise nation, Venezuela, and Mexico vs. Chile.
The quarterfinals kick off with the exciting matchup of USA against Ecuador in Seattle, Washington. Having already played each other as recently as last month, they are quite familiar with one another. The hosts surprised everyone after losing the opening match to Colombia by rebounding with convincing wins over Costa Rica and Paraguay to win Group A. The Yanks are riding some great momentum with captain Michael Bradley leading the troops. On the other side of this match up is the always-dangerous Ecuador. Having drawn against Brazil and Peru, and then winning quite comfortably against Haiti, Ecuador is undefeated in the tournament so far. Although they did lose to USA last month in a friendly due to a great goal by Nagbe, the game was a tight one and this is a very unpredictable tie. With players such as Antonio Valencia, Enner Valencia, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley, this quarterfinal promises lots of quality football.
The following day one of the favorites to go all the way take the stage. Colombia makes their third consecutive quarterfinal run in Copa America against Peru, the very nation that eliminated them in the 2011 version of the cup. Colombia and Peru have each respectively strengthened themselves since then. Colombia disappointed in their last match against Costa Rica, but in their defense they did make 10 changes to their starting lineup. Colombia hope to come back with a bang and reinforce the claims of them winning the cup for their second time ever, having won it in 2001. Meanwhile, Peru has been one of the surprises in the tournament by eliminating soccer superpower Brazil. Led by striker, Paolo Guerrero, Peru looks to make a third consecutive appearance in the semifinals! This tie shows a lot of promise and looks to be one of the more competitive matches in the round.
Arguably the best player in the world will play on Saturday against Venezuela. Lionel Messi looks to increase his lead in the golden boot race and lead his Argentinean teammates to another final. Argentina is the only team in the cup to have won their three group stage games, scoring 10 goals and only conceding one. With such an impressive attack and a very solid defense, it’s hard to make an argument as to why they can’t and won’t win the Copa America, but Venezuela begs to differ. Beating one of the favorites of the tournament, Uruguay, Venezuela has really dropped some jaws this summer. Venezuela has improved from last years Copa performance and has done so in style, going undefeated in the group stage. Although many expect Argentina to walk all over La Vinotinto with their superstars, one must not take them so lightly.
The quarterfinals end with what might be the closest matchup of the round. 2015 Gold Cup winners, Mexico, take on 2015 Copa America winners, Chile. Players such as Alexis Sanchez, Andres Guardado, Arturo Vidal, and Miguel Layun being involved in this very attractive tie, show just how competitive this match will be. Mexico is playing very well this summer and Chile has picked up the pace since losing their first match against Argentina. An in-form Alexis Sanchez is the player to watch on Chile’s side having scored two goals in their last match against Panama, while Jesus Corona gave the world a show with his amazing footwork in his goal against Venezuela to ensure Mexico got the top spot in Group C.
All in all, these quarterfinals will be very competitive and hard to predict who goes out on top. We are definitely in for a great ride this weekend.
Blog Written by Sebastian Fazio (@CalcioASRoma):
Antonio Conte and Italy go into the European Championship facing an unfamiliar situation, a situation in which they aren't considered among the favourites for the Euro. They go into France considered underdogs and a dark horse, and that's exactly what they'll be.
Despite the criticism for Antonio Conte, the Italian coach went undefeated in qualifying and finished top of the group with teams like Croatia and Norway in it. It all started in September of 2014, where Conte won his competitive debut 2-0 vs. Norway with goals from Leonardo Bonucci and new boy Simone Zaza. Italy would go onto win their next 2 matches starting off the Conte era with a perfect 3-0-0 (W-D-L) record. Italy then tied Croatia in Milano, which was then followed with two more draws. But Italy never caved; instead, they went on to win their remaining 4 games to book themselves a place in France in fashion by topping the group without loosing a game.
Euro Team Selection & Possible Formations
Italy's 23-man squad;
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Lazio), Salvatore Sirigu (PSG) Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Tiago Motta (PSG), Stefano Sturaro (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Federico Bernadeschi (Fiorentina), Stephan El Shaarwy (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna) Simone Zaza (Juventus), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Eder (Inter), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
As you can see, this Italian squad lacks some talent compared to teams in the past. Conte's decision to leave out guys like Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Belotti, Franco Vazquez and Domenico Berardi shocked many. Going along with the injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti makes things even harder for Gli Azzurri. Though this team doesn't have tons of talent, it is being built like a true Antonio Conte side. The former Juventus manager picked players who will fit his system, players he trusts. Though it's understandable, the criticism he's gotten is somewhat undeserved, as the ball hasn't even been kicked yet. Shocking decisions? Yes, but everyone would do something different. Every coach has different methods and this team is the squad Conte trusts, and the team he believes will follow his instructions best to bring him results.
It is expected Conte will play with his beloved 3-5-2 formation. Very fitting considering the Juve defense he has available to him, the backline he created with The Old Lady. Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bouncci and Giorgio Chiellini seem to have their positions guaranteed. On the right side of the 5-man midfield expect to see Antonio Candreva. The Lazio man has been very important to Conte's set up and will have a significant role to play in France. First central midfield spot up for grabs is between Alessandro Florenzi and Marco Parolo with the Roma man being the favourite. The center defensive midfield spot will be a big decision for Conte where we see Daniele De Rossi battle the #10 Thiago Motta. It's expected De Rossi will get the nod, and considering his recent outings for Italy, it looks like the right one. The next center mid will likely be Emanuele Giaccherini, who will offer a good work ethic, and will push forward and almost act as an extra man in the attack. Hopefully he will bring his finishing boots. On the left it's a battle between Stephan El Shaarawy and Matteo Darmian. Both offer two different things; it all will depend on what Conte will want on the day. Expect Darmian to start vs. Belgium for his defensive capabilities. In attack is where questions arise, as Italy are quite poor there and struggle to score. It's proven as they only scored 16 goals in qualifying, one of the worst records amongst qualified teams. Graziano Pellè, who scored 14 goals for Southampton this season, and has five goals for Italy, is expected to have his role on lock, while his partner is up for grabs. It though looks like expected partner Eder has lost his starting 11 spot after his poor second half of the season with Inter. The latest reports suggest Simone Zaza will partner him, battling Ciro Immobile. Lorenzo Insigne is also in contention as well.
Keys to Success:
Italy begins their tournament on Monday against Belgium. It will be an extremely tactical game that will need to see Italy's defense be at its best. This is what is crucial for Italy not just on Monday but also throughout the Euro’s. Italy arguably has the best defense in the world and it’s their big strength that they must use to their advantage. Italy must start off strong; a win, or even a good hard fought draw vs. Belgium is important and sets the pace for the entire group stage. It would slowly silence some critics and set the team up nicely for the games against Sweden and Ireland. Italy doesn’t have a lot of talent and attacking power, but they have a strong goalkeeper, a strong defense, a hard working and gutless midfield and a striker that can pounce at any moment. It doesn't need to be done pretty, but Italy must only have one thing on their mind: winning. Conte knows to how win and I'm certain he'll inject a winning mentality into this group. These guys are not looked at as the favourites, but looked at as a dark horse, and that's exactly the role they'll play. Italy must use their strengths and fight hard.
Time will tell if Antonio Conte and Italy can prove many wrong. But I wouldn't write this very determined Italian side out just yet.
Blog Written by Felipe Pachon (@Felipesoccerboi):
The Euro 2016 tournament begins today with France hosting the tournament for the first time since they won it in 1984. That being said, France is amongst the favorites to win it all, along with the likes of World Cup winners, Germany, the defending European champions, Spain, and the very popular England. With a 34.1% chance of winning it, France is the most favorable to win. Having star players such as Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet, Blaise Matuidi and Antoine Greizmann, it seems reasonable that they are favored, especially with having the advantage of playing at home.
France kicks off the tournament against Romania at the Stade de France, in Paris. On paper, this match looks like an easy win for the French side, but Romania will try to make it difficult for the hosts. Romania finished second in their qualifying group, behind Northern Ireland, with a 5-5-0 (W-D-L) record. Not only were they undefeated in the qualifying stage, they also only conceded two goals in 10 games! An impressive record at that, this match will not be a walk in the park for France and they will have to play at their best to ensure a victory.
The World Champions will also be looking to win the European tournament, hoping to go one step further than they did in Euro 2008 when they lost to Spain in the final. Germany’s debut in the tournament is on Sunday versus Ukraine in Group C, while the other group members are Poland and Northern Ireland. Big names on the roster include the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, and Toni Kroos. Although Germany’s recent record is not the best, having won two and lost two, they are still a force to reckon with.
Defending champions, Spain, look to better their performance on the international stage after a disappointing group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup. Vicente Del Bosque’s side is full of talent and experience. Not only that, they’re looking to win their third consecutive Euro tournament, an impressive feat that no country has ever accomplished. With both World Cup winners and youngsters hungry for success, this squad has the perfect mixture of players that know how to win, and players that will do anything to win.
England are likely the underdogs amongst the favorites to win it. In every major tournament England participates in, they present a very strong team to compete but usually fall short of expectations. Unfortunately, they just haven’t done enough to win a major tournament since their World Cup triumph in 1966. This year their squad includes players from major clubs such as Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United, City, Leicester, and Liverpool. England is on a three game winning streak, so they are coming into the tournament in good form. The Three Lions have a chance to redeem their past performances by taking advantage of the quality they have in their team and performing at their best.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
There are high hopes for the national team of Croatia going into Euro 2016. Croatian fans feel that this is the best team they have had since the 1998 World Cup in which they finished in third place. Croatia qualified for Euro 2016 by finishing in second place in a group behind Italy. However, being forced to play two home matches behind closed doors and receiving a one-point deduction certainly affected the Croatians charge for first place. Croatia also had a managerial change during the qualifying campaign with Niko Kovać being sacked and Ante Čačić was brought in to replace him. Despite all of this they still managed to qualify in second place, scoring 20 goals and conceding only 5.
When Čačić was appointed many wondered how a coach with no charisma would handle the big name players in the team. Čačić has proved the doubters wrong so far as his short time with Croatia has been a success. Previous boss Kovać favored a more hard running approach; Čačić however prefers a more creative approach with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic all thriving under his approach. Čačić has also showed that he is not afraid to confront problematic players with Dejan Lovren being left out of the squad over his reaction to being left on the bench in a friendly against Hungary. Ivica Olic was dropped from the squad despite his belief that he should be in the squad due to his lengthy service for Croatia with 104 caps. Immediately after gaining qualification for Euro 2016, Čačić stated that the current Croatian side could match the achievements of the vintage 1998 team. Croatia really believes that they can achieve something in France this year.
Since taking over, Čačić has favored playing a 4-1-3-2 formation getting the best out of Croatia's creativity. The only problem Čačić has with his team selection is that regular left back Josip Pivaric is out with a cruciate ligament injury. This means that Domagoj Vida will more than likely fill-in at left back. Sassuolo’s Sime Vrsaljko could also step up but he is far more effective on the right side. Many Croatians feel that Vida will be the weak link in this team. Apart from the left back spot, Čačić’s team should be pretty straightforward. Danijel Subasic of Monaco will protect the posts between the net. Captain Darijo Srna will play at right back, Vedran Corluka and Gordon Schildenfeld should occupy the center back spots with Vida more than likely slotting in at left back. Milan Badelj will hold as the defensive midfielder with Modric, Rakitic and Ivan Perisic playing as the midfield three in front of him. Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic will more than likely link up as the front two. In certain situations, Croatia will switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Marcelo Brozovic or Mateo Kovacic coming in for Kalinic leaving Mandzukic playing upfront on his own.
There is real expectation among the troublesome Croatian fans that this team can be champions in France. Croatia does have a tough group which features Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic but they should still be able to reach the knockout stage and once they get out of the group anything can happen for this team. Croatia will certainly have no fear of any team. With exceptional midfield talent, a tight defensive line and proven goal scorers in Kalinic and Mandzukic, Croatia have everything it takes to go all the way in France and win the Euro's for the first time in their history.
Croatia is the dark horse of Euro 2016 and is at a great price of 25-1 to win the tournament. I would certainly be putting some money on this talented Croatian team to lift the trophy in France this summer....
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Ireland qualified for the 2016 Euro's via the play-offs comfortably beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 at home following a 1-1 draw in Bosnia to go through 3-1 winners overall. It was not always plain sailing for O'Neill's men as finishing third spot in our qualifying group wasn't looking likely after draws with Poland and Scotland. However, after Scotland suffered a surprise defeat to Georgia and lost to Germany, Ireland took full advantage by picking up maximum points against Gibraltar and Georgia. Then came the famous 1-0 victory over Germany at the Aviva and second place looked a possibility however three days later Poland also defeated Germany. This meant Ireland would enter the play-offs, which Ireland sailed through to book a place at Euro 2016.
Martin O'Neill will lead Ireland into their third European Championship. The Euro's hold special memories for Irish fans as Euro ‘88 was the first finals for which Ireland qualified. However, there are no happy memories of four years ago at Euro 2012. Trapattoni's men were brushed aside by every team in the group in what was a pretty embarrassing showing from the boys in green. Fans will be hoping for a more adventurous approach under O'Neill's guidance. So far O'Neill has done an excellent job in qualifying for Euro 2016 with a team made up of mainly Championship players with some Premier League players in the squad. Ireland have no real star player and O'Neill will be relying on hard-work and team spirit if Ireland are to achieve anything in France this summer.
O'Neill's most difficult decision will be whether to play captain Robbie Keane at the tournament. There is a good chance Keane will not be fit for the first match. Many Irish fans would prefer to see Shane Long start upfront as Keane's age seems to be getting to him and let's be honest apart from a goal against Germany in the 2002 World Cup, Keane only scores against teams like Faroe Islands, San Marino and Luxembourg etc. I would be disappointed not to see Shane Long starting this summer in France as he's been in fine form for Southampton. Long's work rate and pace can trouble any team and as he showed against Germany he can take the big chance when it comes. Apart from the Keane or Long decision O'Neill's team selection will pretty much pick itself. O'Neill will likely play with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Darren Randolph is likely to start in goal with Shay Given struggling to stay fit. The back line should consist of Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Richard Kehoe with Ciaran Clark and Stephen Ward competing for the left back spot. Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy will occupy the holding midfield roles, Wes Hoolahan should start behind the striker and Jonathan Walters and Robbie Brady will be on the wings. If O'Neill decides to switch to a 4-4-2, Walters will be pushed upfront to play alongside Keane or Long.
Ireland is in a Group E with Sweden, Italy and Belgium and going through in third place is the best the Irish can hope for. The first match with Sweden on June 13 will be crucial, if Ireland can pick up a win then qualification to the last 16 is a real possibility. Belgium will more than likely defeat Ireland, however, taking points off an Italian team who struggle to score goals is a real possibility. Getting out of the group would be a success for O'Neill and anything else would be a bonus. One thing that Ireland can count on this summer in France is the support of the nation. Irish fans will be there in the thousands and no country has a better atmosphere than Ireland. The noise from The Green Army will give the players a real boost and often get the best out of the players inspiring them to achieve something special.
With fantastic support and a great team spirit there is real hope that perhaps The Boys in Green can provide Irish fans with memories to last a lifetime.