The defending champions, Spain, reside in Group C, and they will be looking to win their third major International competition in a row(2010 World Cup). It won’t be the easiest road in the world. Though Italy is considered the other favorite to advance, Croatia is ranked higher then them at #8, and could surprise alot of people. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Croatia

Reason to Root: Croatia hasn’t done much on the International Stage since their surprising run to the semi-finals if the 1998 World Cup, where they lost eventual champion France before beating Netherlands in the 3rd place game. Could this be the stage where they return to glory?

Likely to Reach: Quarterfinals

It’s going to be difficult for Croatia to make it past the quarterfinals of this tournament. They have two tough teams in Italy and Spain, and even if they advance, its unlikely they actually win the group. If they are the two seed, they will likely have a date with England or France in the next round, and that will be tough to overcome. However, crazier things have happened, especially in this tournament, so don’t count them out as a sleeper.

Superstar: Darijo Srna (FC Shakhtar Donetsk)

Pretty easy decision here. Drna is the captain, and the captain will need to lead his team against the likes of Italy and Spain. The 30 year old has 19 international goals, and he will be looking to add to that tally in this tournament.

Rising StarDomagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb)

Vida has shined in his play on the Croatia youth national team, and he’s finally getting his chance on the big stage.  The midfield defender will be one of the players to keep an eye on for this top 10 squad.

Tick, Tick, BoomSlaven Bilic

Slaven Bilic is the coach of this squad. He will be stepping down after the tournament, and he’s never one to shy away from making comments or expressing his feelings. If there’s a controversial call, or the refs are playing favorites to the power houses in this group, watch out.

Ireland 

Reason to Root: Ireland is the #18 team in the World, but they are the favorites to finish last in this group(I don’t know if favorites is the right word there seems mean lol). They were also robbed of a birth in the 2010 World Cup, when Thierry Henry’s handball goal was allowed, leaving them just short of making the tournament.

Likely to Reach: Group Stage

I just can’t really see anyway that Ireland makes it out of this group. They will need to beat Croatia, and hope to catch Italy on an off day. Italy is very prone to under performing occasionally(look at the last world cup), but it just doesn’t seem likely. Advancing out of this group would be a huge accomplishment for the Irish squad.

Superstar: Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Robbie Keane is Ireland’s all time goal scorer, and he’s as big of a name in Irish soccer as you will fine. Keane plays for the Galaxy, but was loaned for two months to Aston Villa in January. The 31 year old striker will be the key for this Irish squad if they want to advance past the group stage.

Rising Star: James McClean (Sunderland)

McClean has very little experience on the international level. He was only called up to the squad in February of this year, and some thought that he wouldn’t make the squad. He has, and he will be looking to prove his coach Giovanni Trapattoni right by leading an unlikely run for this Irish team.

Tick, Tick, Boom James McClean (Sunderland)

Going to double dip here. Truth be told I wasn’t sure who to put in this spot, and McClean doesn’t come without criticism. He recently changed his allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic, so safe to say, he has plenty of people in his own country who don’t like him.

Italy

Reason to Root: Who doesn’t love a smooth Italian? But seriously, Italy fell flat on their face in defending their World Cup title in 2010, not even making out of the group stage, registering two draws and a loss. For most of the cup, they were without their leader Gianluigi Buffon , who was a huge part of their Cup run in 2006, so that likely played a huge role in the collapse.

Likely to Reach: Semi-Finals

Italy could easily make the finals and it wouldn’t really shock anyone, but I think the semi-finals is their ceiling here. They just don’t have the talent or speed to keep up with the Spainards.  They will likely fall to them in the group stage, and if they can make it to the semis, they will most likely have a rematch with them there. It’s tough to beat a team like Italy twice, but if there is one squad that can do it, it’s Spain.

Superstar: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

It’s not very often that your goal keeper is considered your star, but that’s the case with Buffon. He’s the heart and soul of this Italian squad, and as mentioned before, the team looked lost without him in 2010.  If the Italians want to make another run at an International trophy, he will be the reason. At 34, this is likely his last big tournament, so what better way to go out then on top.

Rising Star: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

Why Always Me? These words will forever be ingrained in the minds of Mancester City fans. After scoring the opening goal of what would turn out to be a 6-1 rout over rival Manchester United, Balotelli lifted his jersey to reveal his undershirt, with those words on it. When he’s focused, the 21 year old is one of the best strikers in the world. However, he does have a tendency to implode, which is why…..

Tick, Tick, Boom: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

It’s no secret that Balotelli is egotistical and hot headed. One game he can score you two goals, the next he can get a red card and be suspended for three games(Arsenal).  Balotelli sat the last few games of the Premiership League, before coming on as a substitute, and assisting on the league winning goal. As a big Manchester City fan, I hope that winning a title with a team will get him on board with doing what’s best for the team, but I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a good chance Balotelli costs Italy a game with a stupid decision on the biggest stage.

Spain

Reason to Root: If you like winners, then root for these guys.

Likely to Reach: Finals

After winning Euro 2008, and the 2010 World Cup, anything short of another title will be a disappointment  for this squad. It’s going to be very difficult. They say the only thing harder then winning a championship is defending it. We will see if that’s the case.

Superstar: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

What’s this? Two goalies as the superstars? Yeah I’m going there. What got lost in Spain’s World Cup run in 2010 was the absolute dominance that Casillas had. He pitched five shutouts, including four in a row after the group stage. While Spain was usually know for simply outscoring you, they settle for 1-0 wins in every game from the 2nd round through to the final.

Rising Star: Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma (Barcelona)

Known widely as simply “Pedro”, Ledesma is one of the better young forwards in the world At just 24 years old, Pedro has plenty of big game experiences, as he started in front of Fernando Torres in the last two games of the World Cup. While he couldn’t find the back of the net in those games, he will surely be a threat to do that in this tournament.

Tick, Tick, Boom: Fernando Torres (Chelsea)

Fernando Torres is a popular player to hate on for some reason. He’s a very talented striker, but he has the tendency to fold in big games. He went scoreless in the 2010 World Cup, and was downgraded from a starter to a bench player, the same demotion he got in Chelsea.  Torres could either have a huge Euro 2012, or fall flat once again.

What are your thoughts on Group C? Let us know in the comments!