Spain, Italy play in shadow of euro crisis

Three countries at the heart of the euro zone's economic crisis do battle for places in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals on Monday hoping to join Germany and debt-stricken Greece in the last eight.

Complicated permutations and conspiracy talk surround the last Group C matches with Italy needing to beat whipping boys Ireland to stand any chance of progressing ahead of either world champions Spain or a robust Croatia side.

Germany's victory over Denmark on Sunday set up a clash with Greece which has turned minds to a deepening crisis hanging over the tournament being hosted in eastern Europe for the first time by Poland and Ukraine.

Precious few Greek fans have made the trip due to the mix of searing budget cuts, tax rises and economic collapse which has crippled households in the country of 11 million people and left more than half its young out of work.

Ireland has already been bailed out, Spain has sought help for its banks and Italy is seen as next in line but Spanish supporters of the tournament favorites streamed into the Baltic coast city of Gdansk hoping to see their side secure the point they need against Croatia to advance.

There were fewer Italians in evidence in Poznan where a win over a leaky Irish side would lift them to five points with Spain and Croatia on four going into Monday's game.

Here the situation gets complicated. Should Spain and Croatia draw 2-2, an Azzurri win would be in vain, a scenario which has had Italian media conjuring up talk of a conspiracy, referred to as a "biscuit" in the media.


Greek players said they had spent more time watching election results on Sunday than they did studying Germany's win over Denmark, but insisted they wanted to keep politics out of the clash later this week.

"This will not have an impact, it's football we're talking about, it's sport," midfielder Giannis Maniatis told a news conference at the team's base near Warsaw.

"The most important thing for us is to give some happiness to the Greek people, that's all, to make them celebrate in the street, given everything that is going on."

The team's shock win over Russia may have been one factor in conservative Antonis Samaras's narrow win in Sunday's polls. That has headed off for now the prospect of an exit from the euro that could have profound consequences for Europe's economy and financial system.

But it has not eased anger in Athens at Germany's enforcement of strict conditions for the international bailout of Greece or irritation in Berlin at what many see as the country's irresponsible financial past.

"They (the Germans) have in their mind that the whole situation is about politics," Greek team spokesman Panos Korkodilos said. "It is not. It is just football. This is their character, not ours, we are not saying anything about this."


Poland were knocked out on Saturday and Ukraine's chances of keeping one of the host nations involved in the tournament's latter stages have taken a blow with injury doubts over talismanic striker Andriy Shevchenko.

He took part in a squad training session on Monday after earlier being rated by the team doctor as having only a 50-50 chance of playing in Tuesday's final Euro 2012 Group D match against England.

France and England need draws to go through from the group and only victory will do for Ukraine.

UEFA president Michel Platini said the co-hosts had "already won" the championship for the legacy it would leave and the improvements it has forced on football and transport infrastructure.

"It's not been perfect but I'm very very happy," Platini said of the biggest sporting event to be staged in eastern Europe since the Berlin Wall fell.

"The atmosphere in the stadiums has been 99.9 percent fantastic," said Platini, picking out the Poland v Russia and Ukraine v Sweden games as "extraordinary" to be present at.

The tournament has also been marked by a debate over racism and a series of UEFA disciplinary proceedings against countries for their fans' conduct.

But the latest to feel the governing body's wrath was Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner, banned for one match and fined 100,000 euros ($126,200) for revealing the logo of a betting company on his underpants while celebrating a goal in his team's 3-2 loss to Portugal.

The Czech Republic and Portugal will meet in the first quarter-final on Thursday.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)