Italy is a decent bet to put itself in the Euro 2012 Group C driving seat by beating Croatia without conceding a goal.
The Italians have not defeated the Croatians since the latter gained independence following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, losing three and drawing two of the five head-to-head matches, the most recent of which was in 2006.
But Italy is an appealing betting proposition not only at odds against to defeat Croatia in Poznan but also at even greater odds to do so while keeping a clean sheet, a feat that Cesare Prandelli`s team achieved seven times in their nine qualifying games that went the full 90 minutes.
The Italians ended Spain`s run of 14 successive victories in competitive matches when they drew 1-1 with the reigning European and world champion team in Gdansk. They were exceptional in the first half and substitute Antonio Di Natale gave them a deserved lead on the hour mark. The Spaniards got back into the game but, on balance, the pre-tournament favourites were lucky to grab a point.
The Croatians won their must-win opener versus Ireland in Poznan and, while Slaven Bilic`s side deserved to triumph based on the balance of play, they did experience a healthy slice of good fortune for each of their three goals, including an own goal by Irish custodian Shay Given.
FIFA ranks Croatia above Italy currently - eighth versus 12th - and fans of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking could make a decent case for supporting the betting outsider.
But everything else points to the Italians, not least the group dynamic and how it will likely impact on the match, with the Croatians odds on to go back into their shells and try to contain their more illustrious opponents because, rightly or wrongly, they would take a draw very happily.
Having held Spain, the next two games fall into the must-win category for Italy. Its mindset will be to attack, attack, attack, whereas Croatia is likely to sit back and look to hit the boys in blue on the counter via Luka Modric.
If the Italians can lock down Modric - everything the Croatians do goes through the Tottenham midfielder - they will have a great chance of breaking their duck against their Adriatic Sea cousins and doing so to nil as well.
Italy has the players to get the job done and put itself within touching distance of the last eight once again.
The Spaniards are red-hot favourites to beat the Irish in Gdansk and rightly so given the resumes of the respective teams. It really is a David versus Goliath encounter.
Spain and Ireland have not locked horns since the 2002 World Cup in Suwon when the former edged out the latter 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time.
Ten years on and the Spaniards have improved considerably whereas the Irish have regressed, albeit not by a great amount and they still remain tough to break down.
Circumstances means that Ireland will, at some stage, have to have a crack at Spain and that could result in a heavy loss for Giovanni Trapattoni`s side if the champion team`s forwards, particularly Fernando Torres, do not leave their shooting boots at home. The scoreline could get ugly.
Perhaps the best plan of attack from a betting perspective is to back the Spaniards to win 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0, splitting stakes accordingly. They are about 6-4 to win by one of those scores, making it more interesting than the basic 2-7.
© Frixo 2013