A polished passing team, who like to be on the front foot. Luka Modric is the playmaker for coach Slaven Bilic's, who is leaving the side after the tournament. That may have an impact, but Bilic has been very impressive in the international arena and Croatia are confident about their chances of reaching the last eight. Ireland's first game is against Croatia and people shouldn't be fooled because of Spain and Italy's tradition. It will be extremely difficult. Anybody who saw the scary lesson Croatia gave Ireland last August knows that.


The holders and reigning World Cup champions. A classy outfit dripping with quality in every area of the pitch. Some of Spain's stars endured a frustrating finish to the season with Barcelona, while others triumphed in La Liga with Real Madrid. Spain will be eager to retain the trophy they won in splendid fashion four years ago. Efficient and effective, Spain will adopt their usual clever footballing style, but they face a tricky tussle against Italy. Ireland will be next on the agenda after that, a daunting prospect.


So many sub plots surround Ireland's last group game with Italy. The Trapattoni factor is certainly one and the Irish manager should have in depth knowledge of how the Italians will play. Ireland posted a surprise friendly win over Italy last summer and while a similar result isn't expected Trapattoni's side will attempt to defend like they did in that success. Despite a chequered history between the pair Mario Balotelli has been publicly backed by manager Cesare Prandelli which is interesting. The Manchester City attacker is a classy performer when in the mood.


Tradition and history means that Spain and Italy are the favourites to progress, but Croatia cannot be discounted either. Optimistic Irish supporters will be hoping that a victory over Croatia and a draw with either Spain or Italy might be enough to get out of the group. It promises to be a particularly tight pool so four points could be sufficient to secure a quarter final berth, but Ireland will need to be compact and competitive from the start against Croatia. In tournament football anything can happen which Denmark and Greece have proven in the European Championships before.

The Republic of Ireland soccer teamEPA