The two games today were both exciting to start off group C. The first match featured two accomplished sides: Italy, who won the 2006 World Cup, and Spain, who are the reigning champions of both the World Cup and the UEFA Championship. The match started off with Spain playing at a slower tempo than usual, likely due to the lack of a prominent striker in the starting eleven. The lack of a man to consistently get in behind the Italian defense stopped many Spanish attacks and while they had a few chances, Spain played poorer through the first half than in past showings. Italy also showed a significant change in playing style from past tournaments. Instead of the typical defensive focus, they utilized Balotelli and Cassano up front and made several good attacking plays. The lack of Puyol on the Spanish defense also showed here, but there wasn’t too much trouble for Casillas. The first half ended with the game still scoreless.
The second half of the match saw much more action than the first. Balotelli was taken off the field in the 56th minute and Antonio di Natale was brought on instead. Five minutes later, di Natale scored off a breakaway pass from Pirlo. Casillas was caught by himself in front of goal and di Natale simply chipped it over Casillas into the right corner of the net. However, Italy’s lead was short-lived. Spain’s natural passing rhythm kicked in and after a quick touch by David Silva to Fabregas, Fabregas flicked the ball past Giovanni Buffon. This was Silva’s last touch of the match as he was subbed out for Jesus Navas. Spain brought on Fernando Torres ten minutes later to finally put a dedicated striker on the pitch. However, while Torres played well in getting past the Italian defense and had three excellent chances to give Spain the win, he delayed in taking shots for too long and Buffon easily stopped them. For the remainder of the match, neither Italy nor Spain could find the net again and both teams had to settle for a draw at one goal each.
The latter group C match pitted Ireland against Croatia in what Ireland hoped to be an upset in their second appearance in the European Championship. Unfortunately for the Irish, Croatia scored right out of the gate in the 3rd minute. Mandzukic headed the ball past Shay Given off of a cross into the penalty area. Undaunted by the early setback, Ireland continued to go on the attack and pressure Croatia’s defense. The offense paid off for Ireland in the 19th minute defender Sean St Ledger headed a free kick past Pletikosa into the back of the Croatian net, putting the game level again. The remainder of the half did not go Ireland’s way though as Croatia got a number of good attempts on goal. Croatia regained their lead just prior to half time off a low drive by Modric that bounced off of an Irish defender to find Jelavic. While there were hopes of Ireland rallying once again in the second half, Croatia dashed them and doubled their lead in the 49th minute. Mandzukic was the scorer yet again, directing a cross from the left at goal where it bounced off the post and Shay Given into the net. While Keith Andrews had a number of shots during the rest of the match, the defeat had already been spelled out for Ireland and Croatia ended up taking three points from the match. With this match, it seems as if Ireland’s hopes to make a mark on Euro 2012 have come to an abrupt and early end while Croatia have been given some breathing room in group C that will help when they face Spain and Italy later on.
Group C Standings: