Italy Vs. Ireland, 2012 European Championships: Is It Slovakia All Over Again?

KRAKOW, POLAND - JUNE 16: (L-R) Gianluigi Buffon and Antonio Cassano of Italy during a UEFA EURO 2012 training session at Marshal Józef Pilsudski Stadium on June 16, 2012 in Krakow, Poland. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Italy should have no troubles beating Ireland on Monday -- but who thought they'd have issues with Slovakia in the 2010 World Cup?

You know what really doesn't make Italy fans giggle? Mentioning the 3-2 loss to Slovakia that caused them to crash out of the 2010 World Cup. The azzurri were sitting in exactly this position this time two years ago, having drawn their first two matches in the group stages. This time around, though, Italy can take small comfort in knowing that at least they're not finishing bottom -- Ireland has already taken that dubious honor. Yet if Italy can't manage a win on Monday in Poznan, they're flashing back to Johannesburg once again.

It should be simple enough. Not only have Ireland not managed a single point in Group C, but they haven't looked remotely capable of taking points off their competitors. The defence is a shambles (which anyone who's been forced to spend a season watching Aston Villa should have been able to tell you before this even started). The attack is what you would expect from Giovanni Trapattoni. Watching Ireland, you really wonder ... how'd they even get here? And then you remember they beat Estonia in the playoffs.


Last game: Spain 4-0 Ireland, Croatia 1-1 Italy


Italy have the distinct advantage of looking competent -- most of the time, at least. The jury's still out on Mario Balotelli, but it's unlikely he'll start on Monday. Instead, Cesare Prandelli might revert back to a 4-3-1-2, with Antonios Cassano and Di Natale leading the attack. The defence will be totally revamped, with Andrea Barzagli fit again, stepping in to replace Leonardo Bonucci. Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini, both who have disappointed in the first two matches, make way for Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate as fullbacks, with Daniele De Rossi moving back to midfield.

Barring any meltdowns, this is a team that should be able to easily sweep aside Ireland. Yet even if Italy wins 10-1, their fate is not entirely in their own hands (feet?). A 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia -- or 3-3, 4-4, you get the idea -- keeps Italy from advancing. Oh, the irony...Italy are dependent on two teams not fixing a match.

Projected Lineups

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Federico Balzaretti, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Ignazio Abate; Daniel de Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio; Ricardo Montolivo; Antonio Cassano, Antonio di Natale.

Ireland (4-4-2): Shay Given; Stephen Ward, Sean St. Ledger, Richard Dunne, John O'Shea; Aiden McGeady, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Damien Duff; Jonathan Walters, Robbie Keane

Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: I sense a Slovakia win, 3-2.

Game Date/Time: Monday, June 18th, 2:15 p.m. ET, 8:15 p.m. local

Venue:Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poznan, Poland

TV: ESPN 2 (USA), BBC 3 (UK), TSN 2 (Canada)

Online: ESPN3

We'll have live coverage of both of Monday's games simultaneously in our Euro 2012, Group C Finale StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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