Republic of Ireland crashed out of Euro 2012 without a sniff of a whimper as they were dominated by a rampant Spain, who strolled to a 4-0 win to top Group C.
The Spaniards backed out of their ridiculous ‘no striker’ tactic and brought Fernando Torres into the starting eleven. The forward, who has been sorely out of form for much of this season, took full advantage of his opportunity by bagging two goals and putting in a performance that suggests he is back to somewhere close to his lethal best.
The Irish, like in their opener against Croatia, were guilty of criminally gifting sloppy goals to quality opposition within moments of the kick-off in both the first and second halves.
The fourth minute opener for Torres was a little unlucky for the Irish. Centre half Richard Dunne put in a top quality challenge on Torres, only to see the ball bounce free and gift the striker a chance to shoot at goal. Torres duly obliged and hit a powerful rising effort through the hands of Shay Given, who may feel he could have kept the ball out. Amazingly it was the Chelsea man’s first international goal since winning the World Cup for Spain two years ago.
From that moment on the writing was well and truly on the wall for Ireland, as Spain seized total control of the match and, as usual, possession. At times it was almost embarrassing as the Spanish players passed their way through their opposition, racking up an outrageous 78% of time on the ball through 90 minutes – which is practically unheard of at this level. Even more unheard of was Spain’s European Championship record breaking 859 passes in the duration of the match which, when compared to Ireland’s 178 passes, is a clear sign that the Spaniards utterly dominated this encounter.
Ireland somehow managed to prevent Spain from scoring for the rest of the first half and went into the break with at least a faint hope of optimism that they could find a way back into the match. But that optimism was well and truly smashed when tricky midfielder David Silva doubled the Spaniards’ lead just four minutes into the second half.
Given inexplicably punched a shot from Andres Iniesta that he could have easily caught, only to see the ball fall to Silva who in typical twinkle-toed fashion danced through the Irish defence and poked the ball into the corner of the net with an expert controlled finish.
If there was any doubt before, then the game was very much up for the Irish now. Spain continued to dominate and 20 minutes later their patience was once again rewarded as Torres doubled his tally. Silva released Torres who fired the ball past Given and into the bottom right hand corner from 15 yards out.
Torres’ reward was to be substituted by that well known striker Cesc Fabregas. Quite where Del Bosque has gotten the impression the former Arsenal man is a forward ahead of the likes of Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo is anyone’s guess, but Fabregas again notched a goal from his forward position, and in clinical style.
The Irish defence switched off on a corner from the right, and the ball was rolled into Fabregas who took a touch and smashed the ball into a narrow gap between Given and Keith Andrews and into the far corner of the net.
The scoreline was no more than Spain deserved for their domination of the match, but you can only sympathise with the Irish players who simply came up against a group of players on another footballing level. This result may affirm Spain’s position as favourites for Euro 2012, but it’ll be interesting to see how they get on against the bigger teams considering they were rather uninspiring in their opener against the Italians.
As for the Irish, they go home with little to shout about after two disappointing defeats, but they do have the opportunity to grab some pride in their final group game against the Italians. Players like Andrews, Stephen Ward and Sean St Ledger shone on the big stage against probably the best midfield in world football, which made their task virtually impossible, and for that you have to give them a lot of respect.
Yet there are questions over the tactics employed by the Irish manager Giovanni Trappatoni, who selected Simon Cox – a player who started just 7 matches and didn’t score for West Brom last season – alongside Robbie Keane in attack. If that was the formation Trappatoni wanted to employ, then surely a more feasible option would have been to play youngster James McClean in behind Keane – at least he would have provided the potential of spark, creativity and guile that has been sadly lacking from his compatriots so far.
As it is, the Irish excitement over their first major tournament in ten years is already over, seemingly before it even began.