Spain 1-1 Italy
A surprising game, neither side playing at the level that was expected.
Italy are better then I gave them credit for, able to contain Spain, frequently leaving them passing the ball at midfield, struggling to create the forward opportunities. The defence was solid. They were capable of launching their own attacks, and could have won the game. With one glaring exception, the team spirit was strong.
Spain on the other hand, are like Barca without Messi: they pass and pass and pass but are somewhat aimless upfront. The 4-6-0 they’re playing looks like it may struggle against a well conditioned defence in future, and their own defence is clearly missing Puyol.
Back and forth kind of game, both sides making chances. An entertaining contest to be sure, but was expecting a few more goals. Balotelli should not start for Italy again, he was embarrassing today for several reasons. Di Natale’s goal was the perfect answer to the Manchester City man’s childishness. But Spain were not rattled and maintained their passing game. All it took was a brilliant assist from Silva to let Fabregas in to equalise, though the ex-Arsenal player was uninspiring for most of the game. Not as bad as Torres of course.
A decent start for Italy, who can look forward to their “big game” with Croatia with renewed vigour. It might not be quite 2006 form yet, but they’re getting to that point. Spain need to sharpen up, and they may have the best opponents to do so against.
Ireland 1-3 Croatia
Hugely disappointing, for many reasons.
Given was clearly not fit, at fault for the first goal and struggling late on. Dunne and St Ledger seemed complacent at the back, especially from set pieces, off the pace, while Ward was a rabbit in the headlights, struck dumb by the big occasion. Ireland just surrendered the wings (especially the right) to the Croats and the crosses rained in. It was awful to watch. Andrews and Whelan were, as usual, isolated and ineffective, with McGeady and Duff relegated to the role of drawing frees from the opposition. Upfront, Keane and Doyle had a chronic lack of service, doing little when they actually got the ball.
Croatia were quicker, slicker and just better all round. The early goal was stunning blow, an amazing lack of defensive stability, perhaps the worst goal conceded in this tournament. The second has seen much debate, but I cannot call it offside. He wasn’t active for the first ball, and the touch that gave it to him was not a deflection, but a mistimed clearance, under pressure. The third was again poorly defended, and went in off a fluke deflection.
The third goal killed the game dead. Ireland had a total lack of ideas, ingenuity, pace after that. They struggled to get anything out of Croatia, save for a few tame headers. Ireland, under Trapattoni, struggle against higher placed teams and struggle when they go behind. They just seem to bank everything on Plan A, and flounder when Plan B is called upon. Typical of this was the introduction of Simon Cox, a forward, in a left winger role, when James McClean was left on the bench. It was random, it was hapless, and it didn’t work. The sight of Damien Duff running to keep a misplaced ball from going out for a throw, barely succeeding, only to see it go straight to the feet of an unmarked Croat, was a micro chasm of the game: Ireland were trying to keep up, but just weren’t good enough, giving Croatia an easy time.
Croatia go into the big contest with Italy seeking qualification, full of confidence following what was, for them, a win that was almost routine. For the boys in green it is Spain. They have to get something out of the defending champions. A point is the only realistic possibility, but even that seems a step too far for this Irish team.