By Tom Robin, EnStarz | Jun 14, 2012 11:33 AM EDT
Italy vs. Croatia is the first Euro 2012 game Thursday, in a vital match for the Italians, who will be looking to get their first victory in the tournament so far following their opening game draw with Spain. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 and can be watched through live stream as well (details below).
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Many had doubted Italy's credentials prior to the tournament, however, they surprised many in stifling the creative Spanish champions in their opening game.
Croatia recorded an impressive victory against the Republic of Ireland in their opening game, and could prove a handful for the Italians to cope with. For the record, Italy have never beaten Croatia, and if that run continues today then Italy could find themselves in a difficult position trying to qualify for the knock out stages of the tournament.
Piling up more history against the Italians today - Italy have failed to win their second group match in their past five major tournaments, and in fact lost to Croatia in their second group game of World Cup 2002. History appears to be on the side of Croatia.
One area the Italians may struggle in is the air; Croatia's team are the tallest side in Euro 2012, with an average height of 6ft 1in (186 cm). Italy on the other hand have one of the smallest teams in the competition, with Sebastian Giovinco being the competition's smallest player at 5ft 5in. However, not too much can be read into how much an advantage height may prove - World and European champions Spain have an even smaller squad than Italy.
If Italy lose today they will be stranded on just one point, with Croatia becoming the first to qualify for the quarter final stages. Spain are hot favorites to beat the Republic of Ireland, who were humiliated by a rampant Croatia in their first game, meaning Spain would be on four points and Ireland booking their flights back home. If that scenario plays out, Italy would still statistically be able to qualify - but only if Croatia beat Spain in their final game, and Italy record a good win over Ireland in their final match up.
So avoiding defeat today is a must for the Italians, and ideally the Azzurri will be looking to make history and beat Croatia for the first time, taking all three points from the encounter.
This vital encounter between Italy vs. Croatia can be viewed live on ESPN 2, and fans can watch through live stream online through ESPN3 by clicking through HERE.
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