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Euro 2012: Group C - Spain eliminate Ireland, Italy stumble against Croatia
Spain's Fernando Torres led an all out blitzing attack of an overmatched Irish side, by scoring twice in the reigning Euro winners 4-0 victory. While a second half goal from Croatia's Mario Mandzukicto earned his side a hard fought 1-1 draw against Italy. The results leave both Spain and Croatia tied at the top of Group C with Italy two points behind and Ireland as the first team eliminated from Euro 2012.
Edmonton - June 14, 2012 - Spain's Fernando Torres led an all out blitzing attack of an overmatched Irish side, by scoring twice in the reigning Euro winners 4-0 victory. While a second half goal from Croatia's Mario Mandzukicto earned his side a hard fought 1-1 draw against Italy. The results leave both Spain and Croatia tied at the top of Group C with Italy just two points behind and Ireland as the first team eliminated from Euro 2012.
After carrying the play for much of the opening half and having just watched midfielder Claudio Marchisio being robbed by goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, not once but twice, it was a majestic strike from the boot of Andrea Pirlo that would give the Italians a well deserved lead.
Pirlo's spot kick was simply superb, perfectly curling up and over the Croatian wall and into the back of the net. Pletikosa did well to even get a hand on the ball, as the perfectly struck free kick left the keeper little hope of making another incredible stop. Italy was up 1-0 at the half and having little trouble handling what Croatia had to offer.
Little changed through much of the second half, until Croatia finally made their mark in the seventy-second minute. A quality cross from Ivan Perisic was misjudged by Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, allowing Mario Mandzukicto to easily bring down the ball and rip a shot off the post and behind a helpless Gianluigi Buffon, for his third of the tournament.
A costly blunder from Chiellini indeed and one that leaves his side much work to do against Ireland in their final game of the group stage. The Italians will need a full three points against the Irish to have any hopes of moving on to the knockout stage of the competition.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli was far better in his second outing, after his less than inspiring performance in Italy's opener. The controversial big man was a threat all match long and created chances all night long. Surprisingly, Balotelli was substituted in the seventieth minute for game one hero Antonio Di Natale but after Croatia equalized, the Azzurri had nothing upfront without the services of the Manchester City forward.
In the day's second game, Spain was looking to rebound from a rather ordinary performance against Italy in their opener. After being heavily criticized for his decision to go with false-nine formation against the Italians, Vicente del Bosque decided to go with a more traditional formation and started Fernando Torres as his lone striker. It was a move that took little time to payoff for the defending champions.
The much maligned Chelsea forward corralled a loose ball in the Irish box and wasted little time pulling the trigger on a rocket that sailed over a helpless Shaye Given. Four minutes in and the Spanish were already up 1-0...not exactly the start the Irish were hoping for.
Spain simply toyed with Ireland throughout the opening forty-five and if not for the solid play of Given, the Irish would have certainly found themselves down by far more than a single goal. All things considered, a one goal deficit at the half could be viewed as nothing but a small victory.
Nothing changed in the second half, as Spain continued to pepper Given in the opening moments and David Silva finally slipped one past the out stretched fingers of the Irish keeper to make it 2-0 in the forty-ninth minute. Silva was surrounded by five green jerseys in the penalty area but was simply unfazed, as he easily slid a shot to the back of the net.
Xavi should have had a third for Spain but was absolutely stoned by a brilliant diving stop by Given. Easily the save of the tournament by any goalkeeper at Euro 2012. Despite their keeper's performance, there was nothing Ireland could do to slow the mighty Spanish. Try as they might, it was as if it were boys against men.
Torres would put exclamation mark on what was a riveting performance, as he would notch his second of the match after being sent in all alone by a lovely ball from Silva. The former Liverpool standout made no mistake, sending a beautiful struck ball past the overworked Irish goalkeeper.
Cesc Fabregas would make it 4-0 with his second of the tournament, after replacing Torres late in the second half. If there was any doubt as to if the defending European Champions were for real, all doubts have been removed. Message sent...Spain is alive and well.
As previously mentioned, with the loss, the Republic of Ireland become the first team officially eliminated from Euro 2012. While Spain sits atop of Group C with Croatia. Both sides have four points from their two matches and are two points clear of Italy. However, the Azzurri have they advantage of facing the Irish in their final match and will likely collect a much needed three points. Meaning the loser of the Spain vs Croatia fixture, could very well find themselves as the second team eliminated from Group C. A draw between the two leaders and an Italian victory, would leave the three teams tied atop the group and would ultimately come down to goal difference. Meaning Spain has all but guaranteed their place in the final eight.