A perennial pop underachiever and a sleeping giant of the game square up in this intriguing Group C clash. Click below the cut for managerial comment, analysis, match reports and previews.

HOW TO VOTE: Pick the track you like best and vote below. This poll will be up until sometime on April 7th.

Holland v Italy: Which track do you prefer? [ballot]

  • Italy: Piotta 70%
  • Holland: Golden Earring 30%

Total Voters: 23

Poll closes: 7 Apr 2008 @ 10:00

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HOLLAND: Golden Earring – “Radar Love”

The manager says: “For Holland’s first entry we’re reaching back in time to bring out the heavy artillery. Golden Earring is the premiere Dutch band, in continuous service since 1961, the same line-up since 1969, and still going strong today. Even the Rolling Stones can’t match that. “Radar Love” is perhaps their best known international hit, one that still bears repeating–so much so that it frequently features in US automotive commercials. And why not? It’s one of the all-time best driving songs, full of life-affirming energy and that moment of anticipatory excitement and ecstasy known to anyone in a long-distance relationship. The band is at the top of their form, their musicianship tight, the beat relentless. And a song that alludes to Brenda Lee’s “Coming On Strong” can’t be half bad, now can it? Nederlandse macht!”

Our analyst says: Holland are bringing out the big guns here – a veteran side with the most-decorated players the country has to offer and literally centuries of experience between them. Can this side still cut it in today’s faster-paced game, though? The experience and game intelligence of the back four is formidable but fans are wondering if the big lad up front has the speed and subtlety to compete.

ITALY: Piotta – “Troppo Avanti”

The manager says: “Our early exit from the inaugural Pop World Cup hit the nation of Italy hard. When Italy weeps, it weeps as one. When Italy is angry, we are angry as one. Czech, American and Ghanaian musicians were ostracised from society for the indignity that they had visited upon this country, one of the great nations of world pop. But we have healed, we have learned, and we have realised our own failings. Never again shall an Italian team attempt to defend a 1-0 lead for 85mins of sludge metal. Never again shall this great nation stray from the righteous path of DISCO. And it is with this that we give you… a fat man with a beard. FORZA ITALIA!”

Our analyst says: The combination of a fluent rapper and a goal-hanging shouty bloke is one several nations have worked to their advantage, and this Italian side will certainly give the Dutch a game (and the referee a verbal going-over). The traditional Italian defensive virtues are present and correct but this is more direct in midfield than most were predicting – a lot rests on the shoulders of that front pairing.

MATCH ANALYSIS: Austria 1 Croatia 1

A last-minute Austrian goal ensured the points were shared in this match, but Croatia will feel hard done by after an entertaining and positive display. They took the game to Austria from the opening whistle but miserly Austrian defending allowed them no return on their endeavour until shortly after half time, when gung-ho Croat attacking combined with a rare defensive lapse to gift a free-kick which the Croats banged home. They continued to attack and a second goal always looked likely: it was to go to Austria, whose clinical counter-attack sliced open a tiring Croat defense. Both sides will have positives to take from this game – Germany may provide Croatia with a bigger challenge.

COMING NEXT: Sweden are one of the most feared names in Europop 2008 but suffered something of a crisis after their shocking first-round exit in the Pop World Cup: a very traditional Swedish attacking side simply failed to do the job. Fans are wondering if the “Golden Generation” of Martin, Bard, et al are past it, and new coach Jel is promising radical change. His first test is against largely unfancied Greece, who have recruited the former Holland coach Tom – not an appointment the fans are entirely happy with: the new gaffer’s commitment to the long ball game is well-known and supporters fear some kind of bouzouki rave humiliation. Are they justified?