A Slightly less confusing group passed by yesterday. From the off most would say that Spain and Italy would be the teams going through, but I did hear Croatia touted a bit – and they made a good fist of it.
Basically everyone (except Ireland, of course not Ireland) needed a win. A loss for the top two would see Italy take them after they inevitably beat Ireland, in fact the only result that didn’t suit Italy was a 2-2 draw in the other game. Someone at UEFA obviously thought that was be a good score to test before the game…
Spain vs Croatia was the more interesting game, especially with people fancying Croatia to upset the odds. The first half was a half of two teams feeling each other out. The men in checkers were clearly unsure how to proceed (over attack and concede, over defend and die), and it was hard for them to tell as they saw so little of the ball.
Spain looked better, but couldn’t come up with anything substantial, not really using Torres’ directness very much. Of course, if Italy were winning Spain didn’t need to, so that might have simmered their attacking fires a bit.
The second half saw Croatia’s hand forced into twisting due to the Cassano’s goal. They had a good game plan revolving around the excellent (and Real Madrid bound) Luka Modric, with everyone tucking in towards Spain’s left (maybe they were just all trying to mark Iniesta?). This left Arbeloa completely free for huge amounts of time as Slaven Bilic clearly didn’t see him a threat, neither did Spain because he never saw the ball.
Spain slowly turning the vice did see some Croatian counter attacks spew forth out of the pressure, none better than the double header that fell to Ivan Rakitic. Had it fallen to the clinical Mandzukic or in form Jelavic the story could have been different. Sensing this problem Spain did what only Spain can do and replaced their only forward with a midfielder, without looking defensive.
But the move to bring Jesus ‘the saviour’ Navas on was more than this. As a the most prominent winger in the la Roja’s squad, he naturally went to his favored right wing. With the left wing consumed with an endless battle between Srna and Alba/Iniesta, that space on the right was still free, but instead of silly old Arbeloa they now had someone threatening.
This didn’t help Croatia at all, and one time Tottenham man Pletikosa suddenly found some balls that weren’t passes coming at him. They eventually went all out attack, bringing on Eduardo – which could have gone one of two ways but was always going one way. Now with Fabregas on as a more focal point of attack, his ‘I can just do this easily’ ball over the top meant the Croats tournament was over.
There was to be no last gasp tension, Croatia’s chance had been and gone and we will all miss Bilic in the next tournament.
As for Spain I heard the term ‘false domination’ used which is pretty suitable. They have the best players in the world, you could throw a dart at the Spain squad and whoever’s head it impaled would probably be better than what your team has. But with all of this and the absolutely ridiculous amount of possession, they probably should be creating and scoring more.
In the other game the proud Irish fans watched the team in green be out of their depth once again, losing to become the worst team at the tournament (on statistics that is, Holland really blew it).
From the extended highlights it appears Ireland actually started okay, producing some heroic defending from Sean St. Ledger and co. But it was never going to be their night against an Italy team that needed to win.
Everyone has given Ireland a lot of slack so far; ‘small country’ ‘great fans’ ‘Trapattoni did well to get here’, but haven’t they underperformed? Sure they aren’t chock full of Real Madrid stars but most of them are Premier League and the combined caps between Given, Keane, and Duff is 344. Many are saying now is the time for Ireland to begin anew and ditch the veterans a la Germany circa 2004, and maybe they’re right.
Shay Given has had an abysmal tournament, as has Andrews who got red carded, and none have really shone. Damien Duff was the best player for me, and he was mediocre mostly.
As for Italy, they look tastier than a freshly baked Roman pizza. Everyone is firing well and they have options when needed, although Prandelli will need to keep an eye on Super Mario Balotelli after his theatrics (which were masterfully saved with a muzzling by Bonucci) post super goal.