Italy must avoid falling into Irish trap
KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Giovanni Trapattoni may be a proud Italian but he knows he has a professional duty as Ireland coach to try his hardest to deny Italy a passage into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals on Monday.
Italian media is obsessed with fears Spain and Croatia will play out a 2-2 draw in the other Group C game and knock out the Azzurri even if they beat the Irish in Poznan.
Such is 73-year-old Trapattoni's standing in the game, though, that no one is questioning his loyalties.
Ireland have been eliminated after two heavy Group C defeats and Monday's swansong in the final group match could be the last major tournament appearance for the likes of 31-year-old Robbie Keane who will not want to bow out with a whimper.
Trapattoni, who managed Italy at Euro 2004 when they suspected a never-proved fix when Denmark and Sweden drew 2-2 to eliminate them, will make sure his troops are motivated despite only having pride to play for.
"It would not be fair to the other countries in the group if I did not select my best team," said Trapattoni.
"With this team, and these players, I am proud."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is sure Ireland and Spain will be totally professional.
"I know we have to believe right until the end. I don't believe in any suspect goings on," Prandelli said. "It all depends on us, we need to deserve the win, it won't be easy."
A victory would be enough for Italy to reach the quarter-finals in second place if Spain or Croatia win the other match.
However, an Italy win and a draw in the Spain game makes the situation complicated because all three teams would then be level on five points and head-to-head results come into play.
A 'mini-league' between the three would be the deciding factor, with Italy having drawn 1-1 with both.
A 0-0 draw between Spain and Croatia means Italy would go through with a win while a 1-1 draw would bring group goal difference into play.
A scoring draw of 2-2 or higher between Spain and Croatia, though, and Italy are out whatever the do against the Irish.
Prandelli is set to make changes with forward Mario Balotelli possibly being replaced by Antonio Di Natale and Alessandro Diamanti in the running for a spot in midfield or as a second striker after impressive form in training.
Defender Andrea Barzagli is almost fit after a calf problem.
The Italy coach was annoyed that the players sat on their 1-0 halftime lead over Croatia last time out only for Mario Mandzukic to equalise.
"It's not a matter of fitness, it's more a mental thing," Prandelli said. "This is the mentality we have to change. We are a good team, we've got to believe it a bit more."
Ireland winger Damien Duff may wear the captain's armband to mark his 100th cap for his country while normal skipper Keane said the squad were determined to put on a show.
"The mindset is we are not going home without any points," Keane told reporters.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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