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Euro 2012: Group C - Italy impressive in holding Spain, Croatia thump Ireland
In what was easily the best match of thus far in Euro 2012t, Italy defended beautifully and created just enough upfront, in holding the heavily favoured Spaniards to a 1-1 draw. However, the Irish were not so lucky, falling by a score of 3-1 to Croatia, on the strength of a pair of goals from Mario Mandzukic.
Edmonton - June 10, 2012 - Day Three of the Euro 2012 featured the the first set of matches from Group C. In what was easily the most compelling matchup heading into the first set of games, the defending champions from Spain were set to face Italy. While Croatia took on Ireland and former Italian bench boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
In what was easily the best match of the group stage, Italy defended beautifully and created just enough upfront, in holding the heavily favoured Spaniards to a 1-1 draw. However, the Irish were not so lucky, falling by a score of 3-1 to Croatia, on the strength of a pair of goals from Mario Mandzukic.
In a rather perplexing decision, Spain's Vicente del Bosque decided to go with false-nine formation that featured Cesc Fabregas upfront. An odd spot to put one of the better midfield players in the world but with David Villa out with injury and an obvious lack of confidence in the other available strikers on the roster, it was something they decided to give a shot...and it failed miserably.
Spain still carried the play and had the majority of possession, as they always do, but they generated few quality chances at the Italian goal, especially in the opening forty-five minutes. The Azzurri were the better side in the first half and if not for a couple of huge stops from goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Spain would have found themselves down at the break.
Both sides had chances in the opening ten minutes of the second half, as Gianluigi Buffon made a lovely fingertip stop off Andres Iniesta in the opening minutes and Sergio Ramos came from behind to steal the ball from a nonchalant Mario Balotelli, who was in all alone with Casillas, after neatly stripping Ramos along the sideline.
Moments after the Balotelli blunder, the volatile Manchester City forward was replaced by Antonio Di Natale. It was a move that would pay immediate dividends for the Italians. Di Natale ran onto a brilliant ball from Andrea Pirlo and side footed a perfect shot over a helpless Casillas. Just like that, the Azzurri were in front.
The Spanish wasted little time in responding, as Fabregas buried a tidy little touch pass from David Silva past Buffon, just three minutes after Di Natale's icebreaker.
Neither side could find that next goal but the two teams exchanged chances. Italy's best chance coming off a diving volley from Di Natale. While Spain's two best chances came from substitution Fernando Torres but he was unable to beat Buffon.
Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi was used in a central defender role due to injuries on the backend and was superb. While the adjustment can not have been easy, De Rossi was arguably the best player on the pitch.
In the second match of the day, Ireland were hoping for a low scoring affair but the Croatian's would have none of it. Mandzukic would notch his first of the match on a header that keeper Shay Given should have done far better with. The goal came three minutes in and put the Irish down early.
To their credit, Ireland would fight their way back to level terms, thanks to on a nice header from defender Sean St.Ledger off an Ireland free kick. The score would remain the same until the dying minutes of the opening half, on what many felt was a controversial non-call by the side official.
During a mad scramble at the top of the Ireland box, fullback Stephen Ward inexplicably cleared a free ball directly to Nikica Jelavic, who graciously took the gift and made it 2-1 for Croatia. The Irish players and their supporters were pleading for an offside call, as Jelavic was clearly behind the line. It was not a deflection, just a poor ball from Ward, hence putting the Croatian in play. Making the official's non-call, the correct decision.
To make matters worse, Croatia would make it a two goal lead, within minutes of the opening whistle for the second half. Mandzukic would knocke in his second header of the night, thanks to a lucky bounce. His original attempt on goal was just out of Given's reach but hit the goal post. Unfortunately for Ireland, the ball hit the post and then ricocheted off the head of their outstretched goalkeeper and across the goal line. A tough break indeed but Croatia was the far better side on the night and the victory was well deserved.
Group C - Results and Schedule
06/10/12 – Spain 1 Italy 1
06/10/12 – Croatia 3 Ireland 1
06/14/12 – Italy vs Croatia
06/14/12 – Spain vs Ireland
06/18/12 – Croatia vs Spain
06/18/12 – Italy vs Ireland
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