Spain’s tika-taka has Ireland pika-packing – Group C analysis

Day 7’s Euro 2012 action took us back to Group C as Italy faced Croatia in the early kick off while Spain took on Ireland later on that evening.

Italy vs Croatia seemed to be a game of two halves for me, with the first half consisting of a lot of possession from the Italians while Croatia edged it in the second half.

The game throughout was a battle of possession on the ball and the first half saw Italy win that battle with Andrea Pirlo being allowed to pull the strings without much closing down from the Croatian defence, who allowed Italy a lot more time on the ball than they did with Ireland in their last game.

Claudio Marchisio beats Luka Modric to the ball

The said defence, also providing gaping holes which the Azzurri took advantage of, with Antonio Cassano getting through more than once, but, there were no real shots on goal from him.

The only goal of the half, however, came from the man of the half, Pirlo, whose expertly struck free kick beat Stipe Pletikosa at his near post.

Croatia’s only chances of the half were only half chances, mostly coming from the full backs, Darijo Srna and Ivan Strinic, putting curling crosses into Gigi Buffon’s penalty area hoping to get one into the path of number 9, Nikica Jelavic. However, throughout the half Buffon was hardly tested.

One player who was missing for Croatia in that first half was Luka Modric, a man who was tireless in his attacking of Ireland, but after the break, he came out raring, the tactical change by Slaven Bilic helping.

Another player who impressed me throughout the match was Modric’s midfield partner, Ivan Rakitic. The Sevilla man didn’t stop running all night, whether he was running with the ball, or winning it, I feel he is the main engine in this team.

Croatia on a whole looked better in the second half, with them enjoying a lot more possession, Italy were truly on the back foot for the great majority, with their strikers hardly seeing the ball, due to the Croat’s superior passing game.

The before mentioned full backs were still Croatia’s attacking outlet, and the equaliser came from a Strinic cross, which Giorgio Chiellini should have done better to clear with his head. The ball skimmed the head of the Juventus defender and landed at the feet of Mario Mandzukic, who controlled the ball and smashed it in to the net.

Mandzukic equalises for Croatia

At this point Italy tried to bring themselves back into the game, bringing on Antonio Di Natale and Ricardo Montiolivo in the process, but the defence which looked so dodgy in the first half, also improved greatly in the second half, keeping the Italian attackers out of their area.

Italy’s third substitution, Sebastian Giovinco, who I feel should have come on earlier, came on bringing a sense of direct attack into Italy’s play and even created some sticky situations for Croatia’s defence but they weathered the storm well and got the draw.

In the other game, in Gdansk, it was Spain vs Ireland, and if the previous game was a tale of two teams, this game was certainly a game which only went one way.

Once again, Shay Given was beaten within the first few minutes in the first and second half by Fernando Torres and David Silva, before Torres struck again, and Cesc Fabregas rounded off the scoring, smashing the Irish out of the tournament in game 2.

Fernando Torres celebrates scoring

We didn’t exactly learn anything new from the Spanish – Their midfield pass well and could keep possession in a telephone box, however, there was one change from their draw with Italy which turned out to be a very good move – Fernando Torres was brought in to the team in place of Cesc Fabregas. A change which he vindicated by scoring a brace, showing the clinical finishing he shown in his Anfield days, as well as a lot of determination throughout the game.

Throughout the game, you would be forgiven to assume that the Spanish were playing with no defence while Ireland were playing with no strikers, due to the fact La Furia Roja were able to keep the ball in Ireland’s half for the majority of the game. So much so that full backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba looked more like wingers, and decent ones at that.

There were some moments when Ireland attacked though, mostly via Aiden McGeady down the left wing, however, they could never get the end product that they were hoping for. I felt Jon Walters’ presence up the field also helped in this period of play as well, with him holding up the ball momentarily as the rest of the team got up field.

Glum looking Irish fans

Truthfully though, as the old football cliché goes – Iker Casillas could have stayed at his hotel room, with only a hand full of Irish chances heading towards his goal. Not even bringing on the new hope for Irish football, James McClean could save Ireland, I doubt many players could have changed their fortunes against such a superior opposition.

Despite a tournament to forget, the Irish fans can leave with their heads held high after the most impressive Irish performance of the competition, off the field. Fields of Athenry rung around the stadium despite being 4-0 down, drowning out the jubilent Spanish fans.

As it stands Spain and Croatia are set to go through to the knock out rounds with 4 points, Spain edging it by goal difference, but a win for Italy against Ireland in their remaining group stage game will see them replace one of them if there is a win between the two leaders, a draw will see maths take over. The temperature is just heating up. (Another football cliché)


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