Following their 1-1 draw against Croatia, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was left to rue another “missed opportunity” as his side now have to win against the Republic of Ireland if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the next phase of Euro 2012.
Having taken the lead in both their group games, the Azzurri only have themselves to blame for not being able to hold on to both their advantages, with a mistimed Giorgio Chiellini jump allowing Mario Mandžukić to equalise for Slaven Bilić’s side.
One can gauge the tough scrape they’ve got themselves into by evaluating their odds to win the group outright: before the Croatia draw they were at a suitably low 11/4, but have now gone up to 18/1.
Meanwhile, they can be backed at to qualify which translates to winnings of £42.50 for anyone successfully using their free £25 bet for registering with bwin.
The trouble for Italy is that even a win against Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland may not be enough to send them through.
Were Prandelli’s men to triumph, they’d be on five points, but would need to win by a three-goal margin in case Croatia and Spain play out a 1-1 draw.
If Italy’s rivals share the spoils with an even higher score, they would knock the Azzurri out directly, as they would have scored more goals in their direct confrontations.
Many Italians still remember what happened to the national team at the 2004 European Championships, where, having drawn their first two games, the Italians beat Bulgaria but were still knocked out by Sweden and Denmark, who got the 2-2 draw they needed to proceed at the Italians’ expense.
Then again, such an event is just one possible outcome and Spain don’t look like they’ll settle for anything except for a win as they will want to qualify first in order to guarantee an easier opponent come the quarter-finals. Italy are quoted at 1/4 to defeat Ireland, while a Croatian victory is priced at a pretty far-fetched 7/1.
All in all, Azzurri fans will have to hope that Prandelli’s men avoid choking and do their job against a side which pulled off one of the great World Cup upsets back in 1994 by defeating Roberto Baggio’s Italy 1-0 at the Giants Stadium in New York.
Ray Houghton’s unforgettable goal will weigh on the Italians’ minds just as much as last year’s 2-0 defeat to Trapattoni’s men in Liege.
The Azzurri can still pride themselves on having played very well indeed against two top sides and need to keep the faith that they will do enough to prolong their adventure in Poland and Ukraine.
Follow Edo Dalmonte on Twitter @DalmonteE