The final set of fixtures in Group C find Italy needing a win to have any chance of qualification to the next round as they take on Ireland in Poznan.
With just two points on the board, the former World Champions could see themselves crashing out alongside fellow front runners Holland and Russia if the Azzurri fail to secure a victory over the Irish. However their fate could be decided for them if Croatia upset Spain by defeating them or securing a high-scoring score draw.
For Ireland the game will purely be a damage limitation exercise. Whilst exiting the competition with zero points is a feat shared only by the previous World Cup finalists, Holland, Giovanni Trapattoni will be searching for at least a point against his home nation to bring back some sense of accomplishment from the tournament.
There is one omen in Ireland’s favour though. It is eighteen years ago to the day that Ray Houghton was forward rolling for joy in New York after putting the ball out of Gianluca Pagiluca’s reach to give the Irish their first ever win over Italy. So could history repeat itself?
And whilst Irish hopes may cling to revisiting Houghton’s heroics, Italy will also have a sense of de ja vu coming into the tie. Eight years ago the Italians found themselves in an identical scenario – requiring a win but also needing Sweden to either beat Denmark or avoid a high scoring draw. Fate wasn’t too kind to them then with the other game resulting in a 2-2 draw but could Cesare Prandelli’s team halt the hoodoo this time around?
Italy’s Andrea Barzagli is fit, after missing the first two games of the tournament through injury, and is expected to start the game with Daniele de Rossi returning to his more favoured central midfield position.
However Mario Balotelli could miss out after suffering a knee injury in training yesterday, Antonio di Natale will be waiting in the wings for a starting berth in the team.
Giovanni Trapattoni has already named his squad with the only change being Kevin Doyle replacing Simon Cox to return to a likely 4-4-2 formation for Ireland.
Italy (4-1-3-2): Buffon; Giaccherini, Chiellini, Barzagli, Maggio; de Rossi; Marchisio, Pirlo, Motta; di Natale, Cassano.
Ireland (4-4-2): Given; O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady; Keane, Doyle.
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