EuroCup 2012 Preview For the Disaffected Chicagoan: Group C

It's June. Chicago's dismal winter has evaporated into the splendor of sunshine, beaches and avenue canyons that is the Windy City in summer. In spite of the weather and largely thanks to Derrick Rose's treacherous left leg, the Bears training camp still being weeks away, (yet another) first-round exit by the Blackhawks, the Cubs being in last and you not even knowing that the White Sox are in first in the AL Central, you probably are feeling a bit betrayed and dissatisfied with Chicago sports spectating. Walk with us to the dark side, wherein we implore you to shed your civic pride and fall head first into the nationalistic scrum that is watching (and rooting for) the madness of the EuroCup. This time? We preview Group C: Spain, Italy, Croatia, and the Republic of Ireland.

If Group B is the "Group of Death," Group C should be considered the "Group of Intrigue." Spain as the defending EuroCup and World Cup champions, like galleries of W.A.G.'s and slideshows of "EuroCup Babes," are the prohibitive favorites, and like Germany are favored by most to head to the finals. Yet, in spite of tumult and turmoil away from the pitch, Italy is as talented as they come. Meanwhile the writer's familial motherland, Croatia, will be providing anarchic fodder as the group's wild card and the difficult to score upon Ireland will be doing their best to advance. Read on!

Italy

What You Need to Know

  • "Cant' we go one full World Cup and EuroCup cycle without a match-fixing scandal, people?!" Just like 2006, the Azzurri find themselves in the midst of yet another domestic fixing scandal that was probably caused my the Italian mob. Fucking great. Of course, in 2006 Italy won the World Cup final against France in the famed "Zidane just headbutted dude"-game.
  • Italy, for all their glamour and World Cup success: four titles, have only won EuroCup once (1968). In spite of sterling results throughout the early qualifying matches, Italy has stumbled as of late. How stumbly has the team been of late? USA took them out for the first time ever on Italian soil and the loss of Giuseppe Rossi to a devastating knee injury (both in nature of the owie and the loss to the team) cannot be emphasized enough.

Rootability?

Truth time, folks, I have a real fondness for one Mario Balotelli, a fondness that can be summed rather succinctly by this graf from another blog hobby of mine:

Balotelli, a reiteration, is living the life the rest of us are too afraid to dream, let alone live. If you want your sports figures to be without passion, psychosis, goofiness, god-given talents made manifest in their own time and own way, buy a LeBron #6 jersey, punch yourself in the balls and reup on your Xanax ‘scrip.

So there's that [tosses objectivity, lack of bias out window]. In any case, aside from Balotelli, the players on the field are dynamite and Italy's side is loaded with talent from domestic powerhouse Juventus.

3 out of 5 stars for squad, 5 out of 5 stars for Mario Balotelli.

Likelihood of Winning?

I'm anticipating a dogfight between Italy and Croatia for the second qualifying spot in this group behind Spain and am seeing the June 14 match between the two squads as possibly the most intense match, if not the best match, of the opening round.

8_ball_face_medium

"Better Not Tell You Now"

Croatia

What You Need to Know

  • Croatia has the best tandem of midfielders in the competition. Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar (who just signed with Dinamo Kyviv for next season) of Tottenham. Sadly, the marauding mids won't be joined by Dejan Lovren, Croatia's nasty center back will be sitting the tourney out with a bum Achilles.
  • After missing out on the World Cup 2010 entirely, this is the first major international for Croatia since '08's EuroCup in Austria-Switzerland. An aesthetic note? Vatreni's away kits for this tourney are the freshest jerseys of them all and I've dubbed them "peekaboo" thanks to the flag corner.
Rootability?
Croatia's improbable run to the 1998 World Cup semifinals (and eventual third place medal) was one of only two times I saw my Croatian grandfather cry. For me, there's no soccer fandom whatsoever without Croatia and there's no "me" if not for Croatian grandparents so we're pulling out 6 stars for this one.

6 stars out of 5 stars

Likelihood of Winning?
A bridge too far for these boys in this tourney. Realistically, they should be pretty happy with advancing to the knockout stage.

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"My Reply Is No"

Spain
What You Need to Know
  • Spain (along with Germany) are the favorites for the entire tourney. Spain as 1A and Germany as 1B if we're going to get down to brass tacks. Spain suffered a huge loss with David Villa breaking his leg and yet La Seleccion are still favorites. This is testament to obviously Spain's depth and skill level, but additionally to the system that Spain operates in. Spain's defense is bulletproof and their offense is methodical. Again, they are the rightful favorites and have won the most recent EuroCup and World Cups for good reason.
  • With David Villa's injury, scoring is the one legitimate concern for Spain heading into the tournament. Opening their tournament against Italy should provide a stern enough test for the defense and should also "afford" Spain with the opportunity of figuring the scoring out.
Rootability?
Sigh. Pour the kalimotxo and sangria and saddle up with your girlfriend's insufferable study abroad friends as they reminisce about their "magical semester abroad in [Madrid or Barcelona]." The fact that American college students have co-opted Spain as their life affirming experience and "happy spot" memory for their quarter-life crisis is reason enough to not support Spain.

2.5 stars out of 5 stars

Likelihood of Winning?

Very. High. Like a sultan standing on a ladder that's mounted on an elephant atop a mountain.

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"Signs Point To Yes"

Republic of Ireland

What You Need to Know

  • Punchline to the rest of the world for their paleness, fondness for being drunk, and terrible food, Ireland has a stubborn, fierce, defense that actually is rather hard to penetrate.
  • Don't worry. They won't advance and you can continue ignoring Irish soccer while, not-so-ironically getting hammered at Fado.
Rootability?
They're the under-underdogs. Middling at best and fortunate to have faced Estonia (instead of say, Turkey) in their playoff draw to qualify, Ireland need not be noticed or cheered on by anyone but the most-Irish of Irish. So my editor Ricky O'Donnell can cheer them on.

2.5 stars out of 5 stars

Likelihood of Winning?
Much like Bret Easton Ellis' first novel, Ireland's chance are "Less Than Zero"

8_ball_face_medium

"My Reply Is No"

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