Spain aim for win; Italy hopeful
Reigning champions Spain have vowed to defeat Croatia in order to win group C at Euro 2012, which would allow Italy to grab the group's other quarterfinal spot provided they defeat Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland.
The run-up to the matches has been marked by Italian concerns that Spain and Croatia, both on four points, could settle for a draw with at least two goals each, thereby eliminating the 2006 world champions because of the tournament's goal-difference rule.
Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque and his players have flatly rejected any suggestions of a tacit agreement in Gdansk, while the Croatians remain defiant.
"We are sporty, and will seek out victory. I haven't made any calculations, I am not thinking about whether we need a 0-0 or a 2-2 (result), and about what the consequences of those results might be. We want to win, this is our mentality," del Bosque said when asked about Italian conspiracy theories.
An online poll on Spanish sports daily AS has shown that most Spanish fans are behind him, with 69 per cent of respondents saying they want to see a clean game.
The Azzurri are particularly sensitive to "the biscuit," the term used by Italians to describe a deal between two sides at the expense of a third.
Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2 and advanced to the knock-out stages of Euro 2004 by indirectly eliminating Italy, despite the Azzurri's 2-1 win over Bulgaria.
But today's players have been relieved by the latest comments of their Mediterranean rivals.
"When Xavi (Hernandez) says the Roja and Italy will go through, I believe him," Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said Saturday.
Croatia, for their part, are confident they can reach the quarterfinals for a second time in a row, without having to resort to dubious deals with the Spaniards.
"It is the first time I hear this Italian story that we agree on a 2-2. We are not looking at such foolishness. We are playing to win," said Everton midfielder Nikica Jelavic.
His teammates are equally confident.
"We have proved we can play any team. We respect Spain, but we are not scared of them at all," said Wolfsburg's in-form striker, Mario Mandzukic, after the 1-1 draw with Italy.
Italy welcome back from injury defender Andrea Barzagli, but striker Mario Balotelli is doubtful because of a bad knee and could be replaced by Antonio Di Natale, author of Italy's goal in their 1-1 draw against Spain.
While most pundits expect Italy to defeat Ireland, who are already out of the tournament after a pitiful campaign with two big defeats, Trapattoni has promised not to do his compatriots any favours.
"We have to approach the game with Italy and make sure that Ireland finish the game with our heads held high," he said.