Group C kicks off on Sunday with an enthralling matchup. Spain and Italy will meet in Gdansk, to see who sets the tone in Group C.
As most people know, Spain are the defending European and World Cup champions. This obviously makes them one of the favourites in the competition. Italy are coming off a dreadful showing in the 2010 World Cup, in which they failed to get out of the group stage.
Even though the Spanish are the defending champions, they will be missing key components. Striker David Villa and defender Carlos Puyol will miss the tournament due to injuries. Therefore, there will be new blood for Spain in the competition. Spain will go with a 4-3-3 formation for the most part, but are adaptable to change.
Fernando Torres will be called upon to supply goals for Spain. The Chelsea striker has laboured for the English club despite winning a Champions League title last month. El Nino has made things more strenuous on himself by demanding a more prominent role for Chelsea, or a transfer out. Torres must put this distraction behind him, and be focuses on the task at hand. Pedro and Fernando Llorente will join Torres up front with Alvaro Negredo also expected to see time on the pitch.
The midfield has been the strength of the Spanish side for the last five years. The Barcelona tandem of Xavi and Andres Iniesta have been sublime for both club and country. Iniesta should be in the discussion of best footballer in the world for his service and acumen. Spain have many options in midfield as either Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquests or David Silva could be in the starting eleven. As you can see, Spain have an abundant of resources at the centre of the pitch, which provides them with many options on which direction they want to go to.
The back four is a stern, steely group which gives no quarter to their opposition. Even without Puyol, Spain have options in the back. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are expected to be the centre backs. Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa should control the flanks.
No one should forget Iker Casillas as the last line of defence. The Real Madrid keeper is regarded as one of the best goalies in the world. He provides leadership and composure for the Spanish.
The Italians have enough distractions to fill a trashy tabloid newspaper. The Azzure have been rocked with a match fixing scandal in Serie A, which has threatened the chemistry of the squad. Nevertheless, Italy have gone through this before in 1982 and 2006, and came away with World Cup titles in both of those years.
Italy normally goes with a 4-2-2 formation, and love to counter attack. Manager Cesare Prandelli has a decision to make on who his strikers will be. His choices are veteran Antonio Di Natale of Udinese, Mario Balotelli of Manchester City, or Antonio Cassano of AC Milan. It is possible that Parma striker Sebastian Giovinco could also come on as a substitute for the Azzure.
Longtime Roma midfield Daniele De Rossi will patrol the midfield. Andrea Pirlo, who had a terrific season at Juventus is also a paramount figure in the midfield. Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta will round out the centre of the pitch. Motta is considered a future captain for the Azzure, so he will be a player to watch.
Expect Christian Maggio, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci to start at the back for Italy. Maggio is a terrific defender, who should be a fixture on the Italian side for many years.
The ageless Gianluigi Buffon will still hold the fort as the last line for Italy. The captain had a stupendous season for Juventus, leading them to the Scudetto in 2012. Buffon will be called upon to make key saves against a formidable Spain side.
Prediction: Italy are going through a bit of a transition period, which will pay off down the road. However, Spain are so strong in the midfield that they will wear down the Italians to submission. Spain will miss Villa, but will manage a 1-0 win.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973