The past two days saw no shortage of goals as the teams in groups C and D vied to secure their advance to the knockout round or struggle to keep a slim chance of advancement alive. Yesterday’s first match featured a thrilling match between trans-Adriatic rivals Croatia and Italy. Italy was proficient in both attack and defense, holding Croatia back despite Croatia making a few excellent counterattacks in the first half. Balotelli, Pirlo, and Italy’s attack gave Italy a number of decent shots in the first half. Italy went ahead late in the first half as Pirlo sent a free kick curving past Pletikosa into the far left of the net. In the second half, Croatia kept pushing hard making several dangerous counterattacks. However, Buffon stayed alert and blocked a number of shots by the Croatian team. Croatia’s attacking paid off in the 72nd minute when Mandzukic caught a cross by Ivan Stirnic close in and kicked it in off the post, giving Mandzukic his third goal of the tournament. Croatia’s attack surged in the rest of the match as Croatia tried to secure a second win, and at the end of the second half sent two crosses from both right and left that troubled Buffon. Neither shot scored though and Croatia was left to be satisfied with a draw.
Later in the day, Spain was back in their usual form against Ireland and finally started Fernando Torres after the underhwelming experiment with three midfielders up front. The Spanish played back at their usual passing form and dominated the match against Ireland. Spain surged ahead within the first five minutes of the match. After David Silva was denied a shot near the Irish penalty area, Torres recovered the ball quickly and rushed forward to drive the ball past Shay Given. David Silva doubled Spain’s lead in the beginning of the second half after collecting a rebound from a shot by Iniesta and shifting it past the Irish defence. In the 70th minute, Torres scored yet again as Spain piled on pressure on the Irish goal with the presence of Iniesta, Silva, and Torres in the Irish third. Torres was subbed out for Fabregas shortly afterward, and Fabregas finalized Spain’s 4-0 victory in the 83rd minute with a tight-angled shot off a corner. Ireland’s massive defeat confirmed their early exit from the tournament, while putting Spain at the top of the group ahead of Croatia on goal differential.
Today’s group D matches took place later than usual after a torrential downpour and thunderstorm delayed the match in Donestk shortly after it began. After play resumed, France looked much improved from the much against England and soon took control of possession in the first half. However, Ukraine held the match scoreless during the first 45 minutes. During the beginning of the second half, France finally overcame the Ukrainian defense and scored two goals in quick succession in the 53rd and 56th minutes. Each time, Karim Benzema made expert passes toward Menez and Cabaye allowing them excellent shots past Pyatov. The Ukrainian side could not overcome the quick turnaround of the game and France continued on good form for the rest of the game, putting Les Bleus at the top of group D at the end of the day.
The match in Kiev between England and Sweden was another barrage of goals for both sides as Sweden looked to overcome their upset loss to Ukraine and put themselves back in the running. Andy Carroll headed in the first goal of the match for England in the 23rd minute off a long ball by Gerrard. The scoreline remained 1-0 England at the end of the first half, though Sweden looked as if they were pushing forward more as the half wore on. Sweden equalized shortly into the second half as a shot by Olof Mellberg went off Hart’s hands, and a desperate attempt by Glen Johnson to kick the ball away before it went in only sent it in and gave Johnson an own goal. Sweden went ahead in the 59th minute as Mellberg stuck again off a free kick to direct a header into the English net. However, England were not daunted and Walcott brought the match level at 2-2 in the 64th minute. Finally, Danny Welbeck gave England their third goal of the match in the 78th minute off a low cross by Walcott and giving England the win. Today’s performance against Sweden certainly demonstarate why Walcott is considered such an up and coming player on the English side and why there is good hope for them to greatly improve in the next years. Sadly for the Swedes, this second loss has eliminated them from the tournament, giving the second early elimination along with the Irish.
Group C Standings:
Group D Standings: