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A Complete Guide To The Final 16 Teams Of The Champions League

UCL-Draw

Manchester United and Arsenal, the only two remaining English sides, will be looking to avoid the big guns in the draw for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, which takes place in Nyon (Switzerland) on Thursday 10:30am GMT.

Manchester United qualified as Group H winners and so are seeded in the draw but they still could be drawn against the big sides, while Arsenal finished as runners-up and like United could face the top guns especially Barcelona (third time in the past four seasons) in the knockout stages. On the other hand, Chelsea became the first holders to be eliminated in the group stages, while Manchester City were completely knocked out of Europe as they ended bottom of their group.

Group Winners: Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Group Runners-Up: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray

Below we have a look at each of the above 16 teams in detail..

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

Country: France
Coach:
Carlo Ancelotti
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Other Star Players: Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi & Javier Pastore
Rising Star: Marco Verratti
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 1995
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: PSG are one of the richest clubs in the world and have ambitions to win the Champions League this term. If striker Ibrahimovic can continue his superb form from the group stages, it might just happen.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

SCHALKE 04

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jens Keller
Key Player: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Other Star Players: Benedikt Howedes, Lewis Holtby & Kyriakos Papadopoulos
Rising Star: Julian Draxler
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasary, Valencia, Celtic, Real Madrid
Chances: The Germans were unbeaten through their group which consisted the likes of Arsenal, Olympiakos and Montpellier, which shows they are not a team to be taken for granted. One their day they could upset the big guns.
Prediction: Round of 16

MALAGA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Manuel Pellengrini
Key Player: Isco
Other Star Players: Joaquin, Martin Demichelis & Eliseu
Rising Star: Francisco Portillo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Debutants
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: Have been very impressive so far in their debut season in the Champions League, but their inexperience in the competition may prove costly in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jurgen Klopp
Key Player: Marco Reus
Other Star Players: Roberto Lewandowski, Mats Hummels & Mario Gotze
Rising Star: Moritz Leitner
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1997
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Bundesliga champions have very much caught the eye in the group stages after finishing at top of the Group of Death and are the team to beat. Considered as the dark horses for the title.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

JUVENTUS

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Antonio Conte
Key Player: Arturo Vidal
Other Star Players: Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon & Giorgio Chiellini
Rising Star: Paul Pogba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1985, 1996
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Serie A champions remained unbeaten in the group stages and topped their group by winning on the final matchday. The Italians are expected to step it up when the competition resumes in February.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

BAYERN MUNICH

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jupp Heynckes
Key Player: Franck Ribery
Other Star Players: Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Philipp Lahm
Rising Star: David Alaba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The current Bundesliga leaders ended as the beaten finalists last season and will be looking to make amends for it. They have been in fine form so far and are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in May.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

BARCELONA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Tito Vilanova
Key Player: Lionel Messi
Other Star Players: Andres Iniesta, Xavi & Sergio Busquets
Rising Star: Christian Tello
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal, Galatasaray, AC Milan
Chances: The Catalans were the pre-tournament favourites to win the competition and there has been very little so far to suggest that they won’t win it this term. Vilanova has done brilliantly since taking over from Pep Guardiola in the summer.
Prediction: Winners

MANCHESTER UNITED

Country: England
Coach:
 Sir Alex Ferguson
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
Other Star Players: Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic & Antonio Valencia
Rising Star: Rafael
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1968, 1999, 2008
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic
Chances: Unlike last season, United have marched pretty easily into the knockout stages and with Van Persie & Rooney both in form they are a team to fear. Surely one of the contenders for the title.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

PORTO

Country: Portugal
Coach:
 Vitor Pereira
Key Player: Jackson Martinez
Other Star Players: Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez & Nicolas Otamendi
Rising Star: James Rodriguez
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winner 1987, 2004
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: The Portuguese champions have gone all the way before but its very unlikely it will happen again this season. They have a very good squad with some very talented players but its highly unlikely they will trouble the big teams.
Prediction: Round of 16

ARSENAL

Country: England
Coach:
 Arsene Wenger
Key Player: Santi Cazrola
Other Star Players: Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen & Lukas Podolski
Rising Star: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2006
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: The Gunners have had a stuttering season both domestically and in Europe – especially at home. They will need to improve a lot in the second half of the season if they want to be genuine title contenders.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

AC MILAN

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Massimiliano Allegri
Key Player: Stephan El Shaarawy
Other Star Players: Philippe Mexes, Ricardo Montolivo & Kevin-Prince Boateng
Rising Star: Mattia De Sciglio
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Arsenal, the Rossoneri are struggling this term domestically and in Europe. They are not the force of the old, although their pedigree and experience in this competition means they should not be taken lightly.
Prediction: Round of 16

REAL MADRID

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Jose Mourinho
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Other Star Players: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos & Mesut Ozil
Rising Star: Raphael Varane
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Its been over a decade since Real Madrid last won the Champions League and the boss Mourinho has never appeared more determined to win the tournament for the club this season. With the team they have they are regarded as the joint favourites alongside Barca.
Prediction: Runners-Up

SHAKHTAR DONETSK

Country: Ukraine
Coach:
 Mircea Lucescu
Key Player: Luiz Adriano
Other Star Players: Darijo Srna, Willian & Fernandinho
Rising Star: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Quarter-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Dortmund, Shakhtar are another side that have grabbed the attention of many in the group stages. They are the ones who dumped Chelsea out of the tournament and a side very few people would want to face in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

VALENCIA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Ernesto Valverde
Key Player: Roberto Soldado
Other Star Players: Jonas, Sofiane Feghouli & Adil Rami
Rising Star: Daniel Parejo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2000, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester United
Chances: The Spaniards have been very impressive in the group stages with their star striker at the top of his game but do not appear equipped for a really extended run in competition this season.
Prediction: Round of 16

CELTIC

Country: Scotland
Coach:
 Neil Lennon
Key Player: Giorgos Samaras
Other Star Players: Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama & Gary Hooper
Rising Star: Anthony Watt
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1967
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Had little hopes of making it through to the knockout stages after being grouped with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow but they did it. Anything else from now will be a bonus for the Scottish champions.
Prediction: Round of 16

GALATASARAY

Country: Turkey
Coach:
 Fatih Terim
Key Player: Burak Yilmaz
Other Star Players: Felipe Melo, Nordin Amrabat & Hamit Altintop
Rising Star: Semih Kaya
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-finals 1989
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: Snatched the second spot from CFR Cluj on the final matchday. Like Celtic, anything else they achieve from now on will be a bonus for the Turkish side and very few teams will fancy making the trip to the intimidating Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
Prediction: Round of 16

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Revealed – Manchester United Have The Best Youth Academy In England

danny-tom

According to research by Sporting Intelligence, Manchester United have the best youth academy having produce more first-team players for club in Europe’s top 5 leagues than any other team in England.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are ranked fifth in the world behind the likes of Barcelona, Olympique Lyonnais, Real Madrid and Stade Rennais. Twenty of the twenty-four players who have graduated from the Old Trafford academy have gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 or the Serie A.

Nine of the twenty-four players produced are still at United ( including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck), and the remaining 15 playing elsewhere include the likes of Phil Neville (Everton), Kieran Richardson (Fulham), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96), Paul Pogba (Juventus) and Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City).

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Arsenal came second behind United with 20 players, Aston Villa third with 15, Tottenham and West Ham joint fourth with 13 primary products. Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City are in seventh with 12 home grown players, while Chelsea are eight with total 12 players and Liverpool are tenth with a total of 10 primary products.

Outside the Premier League, Barcelona are the undisputed kings of producing players – with a massive 38 players produced by the famous La Masia academy. And it’s not only the number of production that impresses, its the unbelievably high talent level too. The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique are all home-grown players.

Ligue 1 club Olympique Lyonnias lie second behind Barcelona with 29 primary products, while Real Madrid have 27 home grown players. Another French club, Stade Rennais, are above Manchester United with 21 primary prodcuts. Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich are sixth with a total of 23 players followed by Sochaux, Real Sociedad, Atalanta and Atletico Madrid.

Top 10 from the Premier League

Manchester United – 24 total academy products
Arsenal – 20 academy products
Aston Villa – 15 academy products
Tottenham Hotspur – 15 academy products
West Ham United – 13 academy products
Newcastle United – 13 academy products
Manchester City – 12 academy products
Southampton – 12 academy products
Chelsea – 12 academy products
Liverpool – 10 academy products

Complete list..

Top 10 from Europe

Barcelona (La Liga) – 38 academy products
Olympique Lyonnais (Ligue 1) – 31 academy products
Real Madrid (La Liga) – 29 academy products
Stade Rennais (Ligue 1) – 24 academy products
Manchester United (Premier League) – 24 academy products
Bayern Munich (Bundesliga) – 23 academy products
Sochaux (Ligue 1) – 22 academy products
Real Sociedad (La Liga) – 21 academy products
Atalanta (Serie A) – 21 academy products
Atletico Madrid (La Liga) – 21 academy products

Complete list..

El Clasico – Barcelona v Real Madrid Preview

There are very few fixtures in world football that capture the imagination quite like the meeting between the two giants of Spanish football – Barcelona and Real Madrid, as the El Clasico returns tonight.

Two old adversaries will lock horns at Camp Nou in the latest installment of a derby dual which will perhaps decide the fate of the league at a point sooner than ever before. Barcelona are currently at the top of the table and hold an eight-point lead over their arch rivals. It’s no rocket science that anything apart from a win for Real Madrid will mean a huge task for them to overturn the deficit and defend their league title.

TEAM NEWS

Barcelona

Barcelona will assess Gerard Pique’s fitness ahead of Sunday’s Primera Division showdown with Real Madrid at Camp Nou. The Spain defender has not played for two weeks because of a foot injury but managed to train in the gym on Friday. Carles Puyol (elbow) and Thiago Alcantara (knee) are ruled out, meaning converted midfielders Alex Song and Javier Mascherano are likely to resume their partnership in central defence.

Real Madrid

Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria are set to return to the starting line-up for Real Madrid, who have no injury concerns. The biggest selection dilemma for boss Jose Mourinho is likely to be over the playmaker role, with Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric, Kaka and Michael Essien all vying for a starting berth.

HEAD TO HEAD

Played – 221
Barcelona Wins – 87
Draw – 46
Real Madrid Wins – 88

HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES (LAST FIVE)

29-Aug-12 – Super Cup – Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
23-Aug-12 – Super Cup – Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid
21-Apr-12 – La Liga – Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
25-Jan-12 – Copa del Rey – Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid
18-Jan-12 – Copa del Rey – Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona – WWWWW

02-Oct-12 – Champions League – Benfica 0-2 Barcelona
29-Sep-12 – La Liga – Sevilla 2-3 Barcelona
22-Sep-12 – La Liga – Barcelona 2-0 Granada
19-Sep-12 – Champions League – Barcelona 3-2 Spartak Moscow
15-Sep-12 – La Liga – Getafe 1-4 Barcelona

Real Madrid – WWWWL

03-Oct-12 – Champions League – Ajax 1-4 Real Madrid
30-Sep-12 – La Liga – Real Madrid 5-1 Deportivo
24-Sep-12 – La Liga – Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Real Madrid
18-Sep-12 – Champions League – Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City
15-Sep-12 – La Liga – Sevilla 1-0 Real Madrid

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The Argentine magician was an ever-present threat in the Champions League on Tuesday, setting up goals for Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas in the 2-0 win at Benfica. Barcelona will need Messi to be at his best again and keep the action firmly in the Real Madrid half to prevent the understrength defence from being troubled by the visitors.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Madrid’s star striker comes into this clash in the fine form and on the back of two consecutive hat-tricks against Deportivo and Ajax respectively. The torment of Barcelona in April when he scored the winning goal in this fixture last season which won Real the title, the Portuguese will again look to take command of this fixture.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Alex Song, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, David Villa.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso; Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema.

MATCH ODDS

Barcelona 17/20, Draw 11/4, Real Madrid 3/1

PREDICTION

With Barcelona having to deal with many injuries in the heart of the defence and Real Madrid having their best players in top form, its Real Madrid’s game to lose. As all games between these two sides, this one is also expected to be an open, end-to-end game of football with both sides going for the win. A win for the Catalan giants and they go eleven points ahead of their fierce rivals, but a win for the reigning champions and they are back in the race. An exciting match is expected followed by a win for the defending champions.

Predicted Score: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

UEFA EURO 2012 Final Preview – Spain v Italy

European glory is up for grabs on Sunday night at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium when the defending champions Spain go head-to-head against the 2006 World Cup winners Italy.

Neither side have lost a match in the tournament so far but it will be the Italians who enter the showpiece in better form. Cesare Prandelli’s side were excellent in their quarter-final win over England – which was only decided on penalties because of their poor finishing – and they backed it up with a superb 2-1 victory against an in-form Germany. And although Spain will enter the final as favourites, Prandelli is confident his side can cause problems for their opponents. “We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain’s weaknesses,” Prandelli said. “They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality.”

Reigning European champions Spain had the opportunity to eliminate Italy during the group stage, with both sides slugging it out in Group C. A 2-2 draw against Croatia in their final group game would have been enough to see Spain and the Croats progress at Italy’s expense. Del Bosque’s side play to win, though, and a late effort from Jesus Navas, coupled with a 2-0 victory for the Azzurri over the Republic of Ireland, kept things fair. Del Bosque has no regrets at having passed up the chance to send a rival packing and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with a side that posed Spain plenty of problems during a 1-1 draw in the opening round of fixtures.  “Never have we regretted not drawing with Croatia to eliminate Italy. This wasn’t good for sport,” Del Bosque said. “Italy and ourselves have lived parallel lives and now we have to be at the level that a final demands. In the game in the group stages they were possibly superior in the first half. They were the team that gave us most problems.”

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is expected to have a fully-fit squad for the Euro 2012 final showdown with Italy. The 61-year-old’s biggest selection dilemma is likely to be over whether to field a recognised striker after Alvaro Negredo’s anonymous performance in the semi-final win over Portugal. With Fernando Torres seemingly out of favour, and with Fernando Llorente yet to make an appearance at the tournament, Cesc Fabregas could be restored to a ‘false nine’ role up front alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva.

Italy

Italy defender Ignazio Abate, who missed the semi-final win over Germany with a muscle injury, is likely to return to fitness in time for the final, while fellow full-back Christian Maggio is also available after serving a one-match ban. Coach Cesare Prandelli may persist with the same formation that served him well against the Germans rather than revert to the unorthodox 3-5-2 line-up used in the opening match against Spain. AC Milan-bound Riccardo Montolivo is likely to keep his place in the team ahead of Thiago Motta after an assured performance in the semi-final.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Spain

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Spain 4-0 Ireland (Torres(2), David Silva, Fabregas)
18 Jun – Group C – Croatia 0-1 Spain (Jesus Navas)
23 Jun – Quarter-Finals – Spain 2-0 France (Xabi Alonso(2))
27 Jun – Semi-Finals – Portugal 0-0 (2-4P) Spain

Italy

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Italy 1-1 Croatia (Pirlo)
18 Jun – Group C – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Cassano, Balotelli)
24 Jun – Quarter-Finals – England 0-0 (2-4P) Italy
28 Jun – Semi-Finals – Germany 1-2 Italy (Balotelli(2))

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 8
Draws – 12
Italy Wins – 10

FORM GUIDE

Spain – DWWWD
27-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 0-0 Spain
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy – WDWDD
28-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-2 Italy
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 0-0 Italy
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid and Spain captain is often unsung, but he steers the game out of the back, organizes the defense and restarts the attack. In Spain’s best games, he often has little to do which makes his concentration all the more remarkable: he is the rare keeper who can make the important save after sitting idle for 89 minutes. That’s a more valuable asset than most fans realize.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Against Portugal, the Barcelona playmaker was shackled and kept quiet. It showed in Spain’s insipid play. Iniesta has to have the ball and he has to have room to create. When he has both, Spain are the most vicious team on the planet, slicing apart defenses with abandon. But when he is off – and he rarely is – they are reduced to a passing team that must play keep-away and is very boring to watch.

Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Del Bosque’s insistence on packing his side with as many playmakers as possible has rendered Spain slow and predictable in possession, with not enough width to stretch the opposition. The 61-year-old could compensate for this by ordering Fabregas to make runs behind the Italian backline as often as possible to drag defenders out of position, thus creating space for Iniesta and Silva to run into.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Pirlo may control the game, but Buffon is the man who saves it. He was brilliant against Germany, swatting away shot after shot and showing control of his area that most keepers can only dream of. A consummate competitor, he also stalked off the field after their win, clearly unhappy. Why? Italy had wasted too many chances at the other end. That kind of fire drives teams, and Italy’s captain has fire in spades.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Even though Balotelli was praised by the football fraternity for his two goals against Germany, it was Pirlo’s brilliance on the field that won him his third Man of the Match award for the tournament. Pirlo has been able to topple all the opponents with his accurate passes and wise decisions creating opportunities for his team-mates to score goals every now and then. Along with Balotelli, Italy will need Pirlo to use his experience for a formidable show.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Even though many disagree on the striker’s maturity level, none would doubt Mario Ballotelli’s ability on the pitch as a footballer. He proved his worth against Germany in the last four as he was key to Italy’s place in the final. After being inconsistent throughout the tournament, Balotelli was the catalyst against Germany which rung the bells for the defending champions. The fans would expect an encore from Balotelli and with a formidable show; he can also bag the much coveted golden boot.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The Spaniards are expected to field the same side that featured against the Italians in the first game in Group C. Cesc Fabregas, who scored the winning penalty against Portugal, will come in place for Alvaro Negredo, who was quite annonymous during the semi-finals. The rest of the starting XI will be the same. But at the same time, Del Bosque is not shy of throwing in some surprises and might actually play Pedro or Jesus Navas or Fernando Torres in place of David Silva or in the central striker role. Pedro and Jesus Navas were very impressive against the Portuguese after coming on as substitutes and caused Cristiano Ronaldo and co some problems.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Balzaretti; Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; Ricardo Montolivo; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

It hardly seems that boss Cesare Prandelli will change his winning team that defeated Germany in the semi-finals. However, a solitary change is a possibility with the AC Milan right back Ignazio Abate coming back in the side for Leanardo Bonucci with Federico Balzaretti going back to his normal left back position. Rest of the side will remain the same with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marschiso and Daniele De Rossi playing in center midfield just behind Ricardo Montolivo. Up front, the attacking duo of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are set to start yet again after an very impressive display against the Germans.

KEY BATTLES

Sergio Ramos v Mario Balotelli
With Carles Puyol ruled out for the entire tournament by injury, Sergio Ramos has cemented his place as Gerard Pique’s partner at the heart of Spain’s defence. His replica of Andre Pirlo’s penalty in the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Portugal demonstrated his confidence. Mario Balotelli appears to be maturing before our very eyes at UEFA EURO 2012. His form and attitude were questioned in Italy’s first two games but he has been almost unplayable since scoring the stunning goal as a substitute against Ireland.

Xavi v Andrea Pirlo
A mouthwatering showdown between two of the best passers ever to grace the game. Xavi’s status as an all-time great has already been assured but he has yet to hit the heights in Poland/Ukraine and will be desperate to do so on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo has been peerless for Italy and almost has the Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final.

Andres Iniesta v Ignazio Abate/Federico Balzaretti 
If Spain decide not to play a striker, their midfield will have to fill the void and no-one is more capable of doing so than Andres Iniesta, whose goal settled the 2010 World Cup. The 28-year-old also likes to drift out wide, where he will doubtless come up against Ignazio Abate or Federico Balzaretti. The AC Milan right-back and the Juventus defender both have been very impressive going forward during the tournament.

THE STADIUM

Name: Olympic Stadium, Kiev
UEFA Capacity: 
64,640
Record attendance: 
102,000 (2-0 FC Dynamo Kyiv v FC Bayern München on 16/03/1977)
Tenants: 
Ukrainian national team
Opened: 
1923 (reopened October 2011)

• Located at the foot of city’s central Cherepanov Hill in Pechersk, the venue started life as the Red Stadium of Lev Trotsky and has enjoyed numerous face-lifts (minor and major) since.

• The latest stadium reconstruction, from December 2008 to October 2011, saw the demolition and rebuilding of the lower tier, a new West Stand with a two-level press box or VIP seats between the two tiers and the addition of a new transparent roof.

• Andriy Yarmolenko scored the first goal at the renovated Olympic Stadium on 11 November 2011, a crowd of 70,000 in attendance as Ukraine led 2-0 and 3-1 before drawing 3-3 with Germany.

• It has had several monikers, too. It became simply the Red Stadium before being renamed the Republican Stadium in 1936 and, barring a 17-year stint as the Central Stadium (1962 to 1979), kept the title until 1996. Then it adopted its current Olympic name, a nod to the 1980 Moscow Olympics when it hosted seven games.

• The stadium is the traditional stage for Dynamo Kiev’s European games, replacing the 16,973-capacity Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium.

• Because there were no seats the venue often exceeded its official 100,062 capacity. Newspapers used to just report attendance as being ‘chock-full’.

(source: uefa.com)

THE MATCH BALL

The adidas Tango 12 Finale features a modern interpretation of classic Tango design, used during FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships during the early 1980s, including bespoke graphics designed to represent the two host countries and the key characteristics of football – unity, rivalry and passion.

Developed over a two-year period, it has been constructed in the same way as the ball which will be used during the rest of the tournament. That ball was presented in December 2011 at the EURO draw and distributed to the participating teams.

The final ball underwent two rigorous types of testing – qualitative player testing, which was conducted across eight different countries, using players, federations and clubs from both elite and grassroots football, and quantitative lab testing, which concluded that the adidas Tango 12 Finale meets and exceeds all FIFA standards for an official match ball, making it the most tested ball adidas has ever produced.

(source: uefa.com)

THE TROPHY

Spain’s Iker Casillas had the pleasure of becoming the first captain to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup in June 2008, with the new trophy a fitting replacement for the prize that has been synonymous with the UEFA European Championship.

The second version of the trophy is based on the original designed by Arthus-Bertrand in 1960 and named after Henri Delaunay, the former president of the French Football Federation and UEFA’s first general secretary, from the body’s founding on 15 June 1954 to 9 November 1955.

It is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier than the original, made of sterling silver, and has retained its historical name. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.

The responsibility for creating the original went to Pierre Delaunay, son of Henri, the visionary behind the competition. Henri Delaunay died in 1955 before seeing his idea come to fruition, but the updated prize is testament to his enduring legacy, maintaining its classic style.

Minor differences between the original and updated version include the silver base being enlarged to make it stable. In addition, the names of the winning countries that had appeared on the plinth have been engraved on the back of the trophy, which weighs 8kg and is 60cm tall.

Unlike the original, which was the work of the Chobillon goldsmith and was later bought by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the making of the modern equivalent was entrusted to Asprey London.

Asprey, renowned silversmiths, jewellers and goldsmiths, have a long history of trophy-making stretching back to the America’s Cup, which their sister company Garrard produced in 1848. UEFA wanted to improve on the quality but also the scale of the trophy, and have a focal point for the event – it was felt that the original trophy was too small to do this.

(source: uefa.com)

THE REFEREE

Pedro Proenca of Portugal has been selected to referee the UEFA EURO 2012 final between Italy and Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Sunday. The appointment completes a memorable end to the season for the financial director from Pinhal Novo, who oversaw last month’s UEFA Champions League showpiece in Munich, where Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich on penalties.

Sunday’s fixture will be the 41-year-old’s fourth of the tournament, having taken charge of two group stage matches – Spain’s 4-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland on 14 June and Sweden’s 2-0 defeat of France five days later – as well as the England-Italy quarter-final in the Ukrainian capital.

Proenca will be assisted by countrymen Bertino Cunha Miranda and Ricardo Jorge Ferreira Santos, with Manuel Jorge Neves Moreira De Sousa and Duarte Nuno Pereira Gomes acting as additional assistant referees. The fourth official will be Cüneyt Cakır and the reserve assistant referee Bahattin Duran, both from Turkey.

Proenca has been on the rise in European refereeing circles since handling the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final in 2004. Promoted to UEFA’s Elite category at the start of 2009/10, he was in the middle for four games in that season’s UEFA Champions League, five in the 2010/11 edition and six this term, culminating in the Fußball Arena Munchen decider on 19 May.

(source: uefa.com)

THE  CLOSING CEREMONY

Kiev’s Olympic Stadium will host the UEFA EURO 2012 closing ceremony on Sunday, an unforgettable curtain-raiser to the final between Spain and Italy.

Inspired by football, the 16 participating teams and the tournament’s values, the 12-minute show will be presented shortly before kick-off, and will feature more than 600 volunteer performers. The concept has been created to celebrate the end of a historical event – the first UEFA European Championship staged in central and eastern Europe. It will also promote the participating nations together with key competition values: unity, rivalry and passion.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies were devised by Marco Balich, the president of Filmmaster Events, along with artistic director Lida Castelli and show director Bryn Walters. Balich has designed many international events, including the 2002 Olympic flag handover in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic ceremonies in Turin and the Carnival of Venice.

The official tournament song, Endless Summer, will be performed live by German singer Oceana. The UEFA EURO 2012 hit is the first single from Oceana’s outstanding new studio album, recorded in London, New York and Berlin with producers including Rob Davis (Kylie Minogue) and Blair McKichan (Lily Allen). The national anthems of both finalists will be presented by Tamara Khodakova and Mykhailo Humenniy – soloists from the Kyiv Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, under the leadership of Anzhela Maslennikova.

A total of 150 million viewers are expected to watch the UEFA EURO 2012 final live.

(source: uefa.com)

BETTING ODDS

Match Result
Spain – 6/5
Draw – 11/5
Italy – 5/2

To Lift The Trophy
Spain – 8/15
Italy – 6/4

Method Of Victory
Spain in extra time – 10/1
Italy in extra time – 14/1
Spain on penalties – 9/1
Italy on penalties – 9/1

Correct Score
Spain 1-0 – 5/1
Draw 0-0 – 11/2
Italy 1-0 – 15/2
Spain 2-0 – 17/2
Draw 1-1 – 11/2
Italy 2-0 – 18/1
Spain 2-1 – 9/1
Draw 2-2 – 22/1
Italy 2-1 – 14/1
Spain 3-0 – 25/1
Draw 3-3 – 125/1
Italy 3-0 – 66/1
Spain 3-1 – 22/1
Draw 4-4 – 250/1
Italy 3-1 – 50/1

Half-Time/Full-Time
Spain / Spain – 11/4
Draw / Spain – 4/1
Italy / Spain – 28/1
Spain / Draw – 16/1
Draw / Draw – 7/2
Italy / Draw – 16/1
Spain / Italy – 33/1
Draw / Italy – 15/2
Italy / Italy – 13/2

Under/Over 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 Goals – 4/9
Over 2.5 Goals – 13/8

Both Teams to Score
Yes – 5/4
No – 4/7

Goalscorer
No Italy Goalscorer – 6/5
No Spain Goalscorer – 15/8
Mario Balotelli – 12/5
Fernando Torres – 5/2
Cesc Fabregas – 5/2
Antonio Di Natale – 7/2
Pedro – 7/2
Antonio Cassano – 7/2
David Silva – 7/2
Fernando Llorente – 11/4
Alvaro Negredo – 11/4
Fabio Borini – 11/4
Sebastian Giovinco – 11/2
Alessandro Diamanti – 11/2
Andres Iniesta – 4/1
Andrea Pirlo – 6/1

Winning Margin
Spain by Exactly 1 Goal – 5/2
Italy by Exactly 1 Goal – 7/2
Spain by Exactly 2 Goals – 6/1
Italy by Exactly 2 Goals – 12/1
Spain by 3 or more Goals – 14/1
Italy by 3 or more Goals – 33/1

(source: skybet.com)

PREDICTION

Spain are the favourites to go and defend their European crown, but no team in the history has ever done that and so it would be a huge achievement. Spain came to Poland/Ukraine as the pre-tournament favourites, but they have not looked any where near their best. This is the best possible time to play Spain as they have grinded out results in almost all their games – except the ones against Ireland and France – and looked too tired against Portugal in the semi-finals. On the other hand, Italy have defined the odds to come so far and have beaten the likes of England and Germany on the way. The Azzurri are finding the right form at the right time in the tournament and they have all the weapons they need to hurt their opponents on the counter.

Predicted Score – Spain 0-1 Italy

Portugal v Spain Preview

Defending champions Spain battle with their Iberian neighbours Portugal for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2012 final when they meet in the semi-finals at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk tonight.

Both teams enter the last-four clash on the back of three consecutive wins at the tournament, with Sunday’s final clearly in sight. Vicente del Bosque’s Spain produced an effective quarter-final victory against France, while their neighbours downed Czech Republic to advance.

Paulo Bento believes patience is key if his Portugal side are going to find a way past the holders and world champions in Donetsk. “Of course there are going to be moments in the game when we can link up and go forward,” he said in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference. We want possession of the ball but we are playing against a team that has played better than all the other teams. It’s going to be about patience. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents in the right areas of the pitch. Our aim is not to defend all the time. You can’t do that against the world and European champions. We are aware that it’s going to be difficult but they also know that we can cause them problems. It was very easy to get motivated because we’re in the semi-finals. There can’t be a more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow.”

“We’ll intend to throw him (Cristiano Ronaldo) off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,” said Vicente Del Bosque of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. “The idea will be the same.” Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ‘park the bus’, or take a completely defensive approach. “I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it’s a satisfaction for us to keep possession,” Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. “They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.”

TEAM NEWS

Portugal

Real Zaragoza frontman Postiga has been ruled out with a thigh injury, meaning coach Bento will be unable to field the same starting line-up which he has used in the last six competitive matches. Besiktas forward Hugo Almeida is expected to get the nod in Donetsk, with 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira, who has come on as a substitute three times in the tournament, likely to be on the bench again. Almeida will be flanked in the Portuguese attack by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose glittering displays against the Netherlands and the Czechs played a decisive part in sending Portugal into the last four.

Spain

Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following the quarter-final victory against Les Bleus. However, he must decide whether to start the game again without a recognised striker and allow Cesc Fabregas to fill the role. If Del Bosque decides against the quarter-final line-up, Fernando Torres could lead the line, while Pedro could also get a start in the Spain midfield.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 34
Portugal Wins – 6
Draws – 12
Spain Wins – 16

FORM GUIDE

Portugal – WWWLL
21-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Spain – WWWDW
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pepe (Portugal)
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal are in the semi-finals. He was solid against the Czechs on Thursday. Another performance like that against the Spaniards today and Portugal could be through to the finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
He would undoubtedly be the key man for his side, as he is the only player who looks capable of breaching the solid Spanish defence and getting past his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas. He has been in tremendous form in the last two matches, scoring three goals and hitting the post four times and is sure to be the biggest test yet for his opposing Captain Casillas.

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Spanish captain hasn’t been troubled a lot so far in this tournament and this will be arguably his toughest test in Poland/Ukraine.  He has been in good form throughout the year for both Real Madrid and Spain and today he will face his club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. If Casillas is able to keep Ronaldo quite and not let him score any goals today then La Roja have a huge chance of progressing to final.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona star has undoubtedly been one of the best players in attack for Spain and has hardly let anyone feel David Villa’s absence. Although kept quiet for most of the last game, he did deliver the beautifully weighted pass that let in Jordi Alba to cross for the first goal. He would be raring to go and make an impact against arch-rivals Portugal today and help his team progress to the final.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).

The Portuguese would match Spain’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with Helder Postiga set to miss the clash due to the injury sustained in the quarter-finals, Hugo Almeida is expected to start as the centre man in the front three. He would be the target man and long balls would be hit straight at him, which he would be expected to hold up and then bring the dangerous wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani into play. The rest of the team would be the same which has taken field in all four matches.

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The defending champions are expected to line-up in the same 4-3-3 formation that started against the French and completely dominated the game. Fabregas was not too impressive, but would still be expected to start ahead of Fernando Torres as he fits better in the team whose emphasis is on passing football and keeping possession. Plus he has better understanding with the other Barcelona players in the squad. Del Bosque would keep the same team players that have delivered the results.

MATCH ODDS

Portugal 10/3 Draw 23/10 Spain 10/11

PREDICTION

The rivalry will be there for everyone to see and it is set to be a tough battle. Portugal have played to their potential in the UEFA EURO 2012 and arguably the same cannot be said for Spain. Spain will play as expected and dominate the possession, while the Portuguese will b looking to catch them on the counter with their pacey wingers. It’s very hard to see Spain losing today as they have the experience and the extra bid of quality in their midfield which could be the difference between the two sides in Donetsk.

Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Spain

Spain v France Preview

World champions Spain continue the defence of their UEFA EURO 2012 crown tonight when they take on France in a mouth-watering quarter-final clash at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja have not been defeated in a competitive match since being shocked by Switzerland in the group stages on their way to winning the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc’s Les Bleus have lost just once, against Sweden in their last match of Euro 2012’s group stages, in 24 games. It therefore promises to be a closely-fought encounter in Donetsk and the winner will go through to face Portugal in the semi-finals.

Both France, 1998 world champions and 2000 kings of Europe, and Spain are two of the highest praised nations over the past 14 years of international football. But there is also an old score to settle, with Spain still stinging from being mugged by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain, who lost Carles Puyol and David Villa before Euro 2012 to injury, have no major new fitness concerns. Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Torres, Xabi Alonso – who will win his 100th cap if he plays – and Javi Martinez are all a booking away from a suspension.

France

France pair Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery sat out Wednesday’s training session due to “minor problems”. It remains to be seen whether Yohan Cabaye will return after the Newcastle United star missed the Sweden defeat with a thigh problem.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 13
Draws – 6
France Wins – 11

FORM GUIDE

Spain – WWDWW
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China
30-May-12 – Friendly – Spain 4-1 South Korea

France – LWDWW
19-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-0 France
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 0-2 France
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
05-Jun-12 – Friendly – France 4-0 Estonia
31-May-12 – Friendly – France 2-0 Serbia

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Xavi (Spain)
The pass master of the Spanish side, the Barcelona playmaker has yet to truly come alive at the UEFA EURO 2012 after being largely stiffled by defensive opponents. But against a France side that likes to play football, Xavi could be the key and finally be able to weave his magic and bring his team back to form.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona playmaker has been in fine form in the competition, and has been the main driving force behind a Spanish side without David Villa. Deployed on the left side of a 3-man attack, the 28-year-old frequently beats defenders and provides cutting passes, making him a fearful threat for defenders. Mathieu Debuchy, who is still learning his trade at the international level, could well be troubled by Iniesta.

Hugo Lloris (France)
The French skipper has had very little to do in terms of saves made in the tournament so far but thats going to change against Spain today. The Spanish will come and keep the ball and test the keeper at numerous occasions. The Lyon stopper will have to be at his very best to deny the defending champions from scoring an early goal.

Franck Ribery (France)
With Karim Benzema not able to find the back of the net with his national side, it could be down to the Bayern Munich winger to help the French beat Spain and claim a semi-final spot against Portugal, having claimed 10 goals during his international career and 16 this season for the German giants in all competitions last season.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The world and European champions are expected to lineup in the same 4-3-3 formation that helped them top their group. There won’t be much changes to side that defeated Croatia in the final game, maybe just one with Fabregas coming in for Fernando Torres. The Chelsea striker was disappointing against a tough Croatia side, while Fabregas on the other hand, provided the chipped ball that lead to Jesus Navas’ winner. The 6-man midfield worked well against Italy in the opening group game and will hopefully work well again today.

France (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris (C); Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami, Gael Clichy; Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila; Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema.

Laurent Blanc’s men are expected to play with the 4-2-3-1 formation that has served them very well in past, but with a few changes. Arsenal’s Koscielny is expected to get his first start of the tournament in the heart of the defence alongside Adil Rami, in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes. Yohan Cabaye will also come in the side for Alou Diarra after sitting out of the Sweden defeat. Jeremy Menez is also expected to come in for the ineffective Hatem Ben Arfa, with the later seemed to be happy blasting shot over goal rather than passing to his teammates and creating chances.

MATCH ODDS

Spain 8/11 Draw 5/2 France 4/1

PREDICTION

Spain are the bookies favourites to win this game but it’s not going to be an easy on for the defending champions. Spain have a lot of individual talent in their squad but they haven’t performed their best as a team in the tournament so far and this could be the right time to do so against a not so strong French side, who were easily beaten by Sweden the other day. Spain will play their possession football and mostly in the opposition’s half, while France on the other hand, will look to park the bus in front of the goal and hit the Spaniards on the counter. Defending the whole game looks tough against a Spain side who have a good habit of winning tight games even when they aren’t playing their best.

Predicted Score – Spain 1-0 France

Predicting Croatia v Spain And Italy v Republic Of Ireland

Germany and Portugal joined Czech Republic and Greece in the quater finals in the last night from Group B. Lars Bender scored the winner as Germany defeated Denmark, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to send the Dutch home without a single point in the Euros this year.

Today it’s time for Group C as Croatia, Spain and Italy battle out for two places in the quarter finals, while Republic of Ireland are already out and have just pride to play for. Croatia take on the defending champions Spain in Gdansk, while Italy will look to win against Ireland in Poznan. Here are the predictions for the two matches.

Date – 18th June, 21:45 GMT

Stadium – PGE Arena, Gdansk

Prediction – This will be the match to watch today, as both the team – Spain and Croatia have been in good form so far. Spain are at the top of the group with 6 points from their two matches, while Croatia are second with four points. A draw will be enough for Spain and will help them qualify as Group C winners. On the other hand, a win for Croatia and they win the group but a draw could be risky. A high scoring draw other than 0-0 and 1-1 would be good for Croatia but if they draw 0-0 and Italy win then they are out or if they draw 1-1 then Italy must beat Ireland 3-1 to progress. A defeat may also be enough if Italy fail to win against Ireland, but that looks unlikely. Spain will come out with a strong side and look to dominate the possession, while Croatia will look to contain the world champions and try to hit them on the break. Spain will play their tiki-taka football and mostly in the opposition’s half with Xavi dictating the tempo of his. Fernando Torres, who bagged a brace against Ireland, will open the scoring for the Spaniards in the first half after a brilliant through ball by Andres Iniesta. Spain will control the game and create many chances but will fail to make them count and double the lead. They will take the slender 1-0 advantage into half time. Croatia will come out looking to attack and look to get the scores level after the interval and they will succeed in doing so. Nikica Jelavic, who has been in top form this year, will equalise for the Croatians early in the second half with a powerful header. Vicente Del Bosque will make a couple of attacking changes to his squad and Spain will continue to control the game again and create a lot of chances. As the game goes into its final ten minutes, the Spanish pressure will tell and Andres Iniesta will score the winner to break all the Croatians hearts. The win means, Spain go on to win the group with a 100% record, while Croatia are knocked out of the tournament.

Predicted Final Score – Croatia 1-2 Spain (Jelavic ; Torres, Iniesta)

Date – 18th June, 21:45 GMT

Stadium – Municipal Stadium, Poznan

Prediction – This is a huge game for both the teams – Italy and Ireland. Italy play for a place in the last eight, while Ireland – who are already out – play for pride and for their brilliant supporters. Italy, who are third in the group below Spain and Croatia with two points – must win this game and hope the other game doesn’t end in a high scoring. If the other game ends 0-0 then an Italy win will be enough, but if the other game ends 1-1 then the 2006 FIFA World Cup winners must beat Ireland atleast 3-1 or more to advance. In simple words Italy must win today to stand any chance of making it through. As expected, the Italians will come out and look dominate the game from the first minute itself. The Italian midfield which has been very solid and organised in both the games so far will look to dictate the game. Ireland, on the other hand, won’t sit back and let Italy attack, but will themselves go on the offensive and hope to shock the Italians. The Italians will create a lot of chances in the first half, and the Manchester City hitman Mario Balotelli will give them after some good work by Andrea Pirlo. The Italians will take the lead in to the interval. After the break, Ireland will go on the attack and will have some good chances but will fail to trouble Gianluigi Buffon. Andrea Pirlo, who scored against Croatians with a brilliant freekick, will score again from long range which will send Italy through to last eight. With Croatia losing to Spain in the other game, Italy go through to the quarter finals as the second best team from the group and will face the winner of Group D.

Predicted Final Score – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Balotelli, Pirlo)