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Euro 2012, Day Seven: Open Thread

Luka Modric: the key to unlocking Italy's defense.
Luka Modric: the key to unlocking Italy's defense.

We return to Group C, which went relatively to form on matchday one. Italy drew Spain 1-1 after holding a lead for a few spare minutes, while Croatia overpowered Ireland 3-1.

Italy vs. Croatia, 12 noon ET

The group turns on this match. Antonio di Natale is likely to get the start up front after scoring against La Roja. Maybe Serie A's leading scorer in two of the past three seasons deserves an extended run, particularly with the antics of his teammates on (Mario Balotelli) and off the pitch (Antonio Cassano). But the key will be scoring early and establishing catenaccio against the dangerous Croats. Defeat would be disastrous.

Croatia should be bursting with confidence after less-highly regarded striker Mario Mandzukic bagged a brace in the opener. Their midfield creativity is among the best in the tournament, so as long as Stipe Pletikosa plays his part in net, watch out. One kick away from the semifinals in Euro 2008, you can't call them a dark horse anymore if they defeat the azzurri.

Spain vs. Ireland, 2:45 pm ET

An easy match-up on paper for La Roja. But who knows what XI Vicente del Bosque will throw out tonight? Fernando Llorente would help neutralize the Irish's aerial advantage, but maybe this is a game for the tiki-taka around a plodding back four. The Spaniards should be ready for some physical abuse and a raucous crowd clad in green.

Ireland is happy to be here and should feel no pressure in such a tough group (for them). There's enough quality to trouble Spain should the match stay level until late. That's the goal for Giovanni Trappatoni's men, so if all goes to plan for the Italian-managed sides today, we will have two boring matches. But don't expect the more creative teams to allow that.