Spain 4 Ireland 0: Lessons as Chelsea’s Torres bags a brace
What did we learn from Spain's 4-0 win which made the Republic of Ireland the first side to be eliminated from Euro 2012?
Irish defensive frailties exposed once again
Once again, the Republic of Ireland made hard work of an already difficult task by conceding an early goal – a criminal offence when facing the world and European champions. In their opening Group C game, Croatia took the lead within three minutes, and the Irish succumbed to the same fate again, although they held out a mere 60 seconds longer. Spain peppered short intricate passes across Shay Given’s area, before a hurried Irish clearance fell to Fernando Torres, who broke past Stephen Ward to score his first goal of Euro 2012. Moments later, and Given was forced into low save from David Silva after Aiden McGeady carelessly conceded possession. The Spanish were simply forming an orderly queue to test Ireland’s beleaguered goalkeeper, and Torres should have extended his side’s lead when Álvaro Arbeloa’s cross found the Chelsea striker – but he guided his shot wide from six-yards. Ireland did recover and reinstate some sense of order in their back four, before Silva’s close-range finish in the 49th minute ended any hopes of a comeback – the Irish rearguard were once again punished for sloppy defending. Torres’s tidy finish extended Spain’s lead to three, before substitute Cesc Fàbregas rifled a fourth past a sorry Given.
Trapattoni’s selection must be questioned
Ireland’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane endured a frustrating night against Croatia, and despite his minimal contribution to the defeat, Trapattoni persevered with the LA Galaxy forward for the Spain clash. Of course, dropping your captain would be a major statement, especially considering the Italian’s unwavering loyalty to his key players since assuming the role in 2008 – the Kevin Foley saga aside. The 73-year-old broke tradition and opted to keep his starting line-up to himself, suggesting a change in personnel – but while the majority of Ireland were pleading for Sunderland’s impressive James McClean to be drafted into the side, the big selection surprise was Simon Cox’s inclusion. After the Croatia defeat, Trapattoni maintained McClean was too inexperienced to start at Euro 2012, but the former Derry City winger started 20 Premier League games last season, while Cox was handed a first-team place on just seven occasions by former West Brom boss Roy Hodgson. Even accepting Trapattoni’s argument for the omission of McClean, surely Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters was the ideal candidate to test a Spanish defence which detests physicality? The 28-year-old scored seven goals in 38 appearances in an impressive season for the Potters. He finally got the nod, but not until half-time when Ireland were already 1-0 down. Meanwhile, McClean did not arrive into the fray until the 76th minute – much too late for the Sunderland whizz kid to make an impact on the outcome of the game.
Del Bosque needs to start with a striker
Vicente Del Bosque started without a recognised forward for Spain’s 1-1 draw with Italy, and his side struggled in the absence of a striker to act as a focal point for their attacks. Although Fàbregas netted the equaliser against the Azzurri, the arrival of Torres transformed Spain into a much more threatening outfit – the Chelsea striker should have scored twice in the closing moments of that game. The former Real Madrid manager handed Torres a starting berth for Thursday’s tie and the move paid dividends with the former Liverpool forward scoring twice in Gdansk. Next up for Spain is Croatia, and with all due respect to Trapattoni’s side, Slaven Bilić’s men will provide a sterner test. Del Bosque would do well to stick to his 4-5-1 formation for their final group game. For Torres, it could mark the end of a miserable cycle. His woes all began towards the end of the Premier League season in 2010, with the striker undergoing surgery in order to be fit for the World Cup, but lacking fitness and confidence, he struggled in South Africa. Liverpool’s woes also contributed to his dip in form before he completed a £50m transfer to Chelsea in January 2011. His time at Stamford Bridge has been nothing short of miserable, however, Torres’s double against Ireland could be the beginning of a new, happier spell – depending on how the rest of his tournament develops.
What now for Group C?
Ireland are the first team to be eliminated from Euro 2012, but not without a courageous if ultimately fruitless performance against Spain – the holders were just too good and Trapattoni’s side simply lacked quality. Credit goes to Ireland’s manager for getting a very, very average side to their first major tournament in a decade – it is unlikely he will regret his conservative tactics, but he will rue silly defensive errors. However, Ireland can give their fantastic travelling support something to cheer by beating Italy in the final group game. The Irish have faced the Italians three times during the Trapattoni era, drawing twice and winning once. Cesare Prandelli’s side cannot afford to underestimate a wounded Ireland side that will be desperate to end Euro 2012 on a positive note. Spain head the group on goal difference from Croatia, both with four points, while Italy are two behind. Del Bosque’s men should have enough quality to see off Croatia, so it will come down to Prandelli’s clash against his former manager Trapattoni. Ireland may yet have a say on the outcome of Group C – sadly for the Green Army – it will be on the fates of Croatia and Italy – and not their own.
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