Another slow start cost the Republic of Ireland dear against Spain, who never looked back after opening the scoring four minutes in and swept to a 4-0 victory that eliminates Giovanni Trapattoni’s men from Euro 2012 with a game to spare. Fernando Torres announced his arrival in the competition with a goal in each half, sandwiched between a coolly-taken David Silva goal and topped off with a Cesc Fabregas strike. Here we look at the key talking points from yet another miserable Euro night for Ireland.
In Spain’s opening game against Italy, Vicente del Bosque’s 4-6-0 formation failed to impress after his side could only manage a draw, coming back from a goal down. Chance after chance went begging, with the Spaniards lacking the all-important finish. Del Bosque rejigged his line-up to meet the Irish, introducing Fernando Torres up front at the expense of Cesc Fabregas, who scored Spain’s only goal against Italy. The Chelsea striker wasted little time in proving to the coach why he shouldn’t be left on the bench, smashing a right-footed shot past the helpless Shay Given after four minutes to provide the end product that was absent against the Azzurri. He then strengthened his case to retain his starting spot when he added another with 20 minutes to go, suggesting we won’t be seeing Del Bosque’s striker-less experiment imprinted on any more of his starting line-ups.
Giovanni Trapattoni sets his Ireland side out to be solid and tough to beat, recognising that defence is their greatest strength. By keeping it tight at the back, Ireland can then begin to build on that platform with sporadic forays into the opposition half. However, in both halves of both their group matches at Euro 2012 they conceded a goal within five minutes, meaning they had to abandon their favoured formation and mentality with the match still in its infancy. It was a tough enough challenge against Croatia and Spain anyway without giving them a goal start. Ireland’s slow openings have cost them dear in Poland and the Ukraine.
The precise-passing Spaniards dominated possession and Ireland didn’t help themselves by repeatedly giving the ball away cheaply whenever they got a rare look-in. Several Irish players were guilty of panicking when finding themselves in possession and hoofing it blindly up field – inevitably straight back to a Spanish player. Robbie Keane fed on scraps all game, invariably struggling with high balls punted in his vague direction. The result was the ball taking on a boomerang quality and always finding its way back into the Irish half, playing right into their opponents’ hands.
Torres hits back
With first-choice striker David Villa out of the tournament, Spain boss Del Bosque hardly gave a glowing endorsement of his other forwards by fielding six midfielders in their Group C opener against Italy last weekend. Torres, who has endured a difficult season with Chelsea, was one of those overlooked in Gdansk. Even when he did come on he proceeded to miss three gilt-edged chances to grab the winner, again demonstrating his alarming dip in confidence. However, restored to the starting XI on Thursday he wasted no time in giving us a glimpse of his old self, taking a smart first-touch to dash away from two Ireland defenders before firing the ball beyond Shay Given into the roof of the net after just four minutes. He then pushed the dagger further into Irish hearts by stroking home his second and Spain’s third with 20 minutes left. Will this signal a return to the Torres of old? Or is it merely the latest in a series of false dawns for the 28-year-old?
Given’s star on the wane?
Shay Given has been a tremendous goalkeeper for club and country for well over a decade now, but he had a particularly poor night against Spain. He failed to react to Fernando Torres’ rising drive for the opener which, although hit with power, was straight at the 36-year-old. He was even more culpable for the second goal, pushing Andre Iniesta’s shot meekly out towards David Silva, who tricked three defenders before finding the bottom corner. Given came into this tournament suffering from a series of niggling injuries and although he declared himself fully fit, you do wonder whether age is finally catching up with the experienced stopper.
In a tournament that has been dominated by fan misbehaviour, culminating in those disturbing scenes from Warsaw on Tuesday, it was a refreshing sight to see both the Ireland and Spain fans sitting amongst each other with no hint of malice or trouble. Together they produced a rousing atmosphere for both sets of players, even once the result had been put beyond doubt, and provided the sorts of sights and sounds we want to see in the rest of the tournament.
Spain’s incredible ability to retain the ball is well known, but their capacity to out-pass the opposition scaled new heights in Gdansk. Midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso completed 106 passes (excluding crosses) in the first half, two more than the entire Ireland team put together. By the final whistle the Spanish side had completed an incredible 859 passes, more than in any European Championship match, ever.
The impudent skills of David Silva are well known to Premier League fans following his mesmerising displays for Manchester City over the past two years. But the 26-year-old showed what he can do on the international stage with a superbly-taken second, leaving three Ireland defenders flapping in vain to get a block in, before coolly tucking the ball into the bottom right hand corner. Composure personified from the former Valencia man, who also set up two goals for his team-mates.
The Spanish midfield maestro is fast establishing himself as a contender for player of the tournament. After a man-of-the-match winning display against the Italians, he was no less effective on Thursday night, proving a constant threat at the heart of his side. The stats spoke for themselves, with the Barcelona man travelling an astonishing 9.2km and completing 83 passes with a pass accuracy of 87 per cent during his 79 minutes on the pitch. Iniesta is quite simply wonderful to watch, boasting skill, accuracy and an unwavering work-rate, while moments like his deft backheel flick to David Silva in the first half blend seamlessly into Spain’s aesthetic style.