There will be no room for sentiment when Italy meets former coach Giovanni Trapattoni and his Ireland team today with a place in the European Championship quarter-finals on the line.
Nothing less than victory will suffice for the Azzurri, who are going to have to play without mercy in their final Group C match — and also hope for help from Spain and Croatia.
A worrying scenario for Italy is that if Spain and Croatia draw with a score of 2-2 or higher, Italy will be eliminated even if it beats Ireland.
That is exactly what happened to the Azzurri at Euro 2004, when Trapattoni was coaching Italy — a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden eliminated the Italians, even though they beat Bulgaria in their final group match.
“If we start thinking about a fix, we’ve got problems,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.
Spain and Croatia lead the group with four points each and Italy has two. The Italians are not without hope, though, entering their match in Poznan. If they win and the other match does not end in a draw, they will advance as the second-place team in the group. Or if Italy wins and Spain-Croatia finishes 0-0, the Azzurri will win the group.
Alternatively, if Italy wins and Spain-Croatia finishes 1-1, the Azzurri will advance if they beat Ireland by at least three goals or by scores of 3-1 or 4-2 — based on a better UEFA ranking.
Playing in its first major tournament in 10 years, Ireland opened with a 3-1 loss to Croatia, then was thrashed 4-0 by defending champion Spain.
Prandelli said he might have to replace Mario Balotelli with Antonio Di Natale in attack, since Balotelli picked up a right knee injury in training on Saturday.