International tournaments just aren’t the same without at least the possibility of a stitch-up at the end of the group stage, and here we have Euro 2012’s chance: Croatia 2-2 Spain (or a higher score draw) would put both teams through. Italy could score as many as they liked against Ireland without it making any difference, because in a three-way tie at the top, results against Ireland would no longer count.
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has, however, reacted poorly to suggestions that either side might play the match with the hidden aim of scoring twice each, so let’s assume both teams go for a win that would more than likely knock their opponents out. What are Croatia’s chances of shockingly dumping Spain out of the tournament?
Answer: middling, but not as low as you might think. Apart from a first half against Italy where they totally failed to cope with Cesare Prandelli’s (these days) unusual 3-5-2 formation – a problem Slaven Bilic comprehensively fixed at half time – they’ve not done a lot wrong in this tournament. Luka Modric is world-class and, if fit, Mario Mandzukic will partner Nika Jelavic up front and give Spain’s less-than-imposing defence some problems. As for Spain, their match against the Irish was like a training exercise and has told us nothing.
GROUP MATHS: Hang on, I can’t hear you cry, what if it’s Spain 1-1 Croatia? Where does that leave us? Well, nobody at all, I’ll tell you. That would mean every game involving the tied teams – Spain, Croatia and (assuming they win) Italy would have ended 1-1. Thus they cannot be separated on results between them, so results against Ireland would start counting again and, if Italy have improved on Croatia’s 3-1 defeat of the Irish, they are through and the Croats are out.
PREDICTION: Spain 2-2 Croatia.