Euro 2012 | Match Day 11

More quality, more problems, more drama. The Group C finale left it late. Onward!

Italy v Republic Of Ireland

After a strong qualifying campaign full of tough, gutsy performances that saw them go 14 consecutive matches without a loss, I had high hopes for the Republic Of Ireland, but Group C showed just how far they have to go as they transition to a new generation of players. Italy proved no exception for Ireland, beating them handily 2-0 on strikes from Antonio Cassano..


1-0. Bang.

… and a late wonder goal from Mario Balotelli….


2-0 to Mario. The super one.

Before and between the Italian goals, Ireland struggled to make an impression; even if they kept it tighter at the back (both goals came from set pieces), Ireland posed only a minor threat (*wink*) to the Italians, allowing Andrea Pirlo to stamp his authority on the match with his dominance in the attack. It’s a funny old game; while Pirlo might be a typically Serie A attacking midfielder, which means he doesn’t do too much on defense and his tackling is left wanting, Italy are structured to allow him to make plays by having forwards who play a high line and keep pressure on the back four. This allows Pirlo and Marchissio to get into space between the midfield and the defense when Italy win the ball back, which is always. In many ways, football is a game about space, about conceding and suddenly retaking space after your opponent has dragged himself out of position. 


All-tournament: Andrea Pirlo

In this way, Italy play like boxers, guarding themselves while waiting for the right opening to throw their own knockout blow, usually when the opposition have committed just too much. Let me say; it works. If the first two matches saw Italy tire and let down their own guard, allowing their opponents to score after falling behind, this match saw Italy deliver their own late goal to seal a place in the knockout rounds. Italy look good, ready to make some noise in the Euro 2012. Ireland? Time to rethink the plan.

Spain v Croatia

Spain left it late to seal a 1-0 win and take the Group. In my Group C preview, I noted that Ireland had a chance if they could hold it down against Spain; they didn’t, losing 4-0, a total which meant that Spain could win the Group if… wait. What? UEFA’s tie-breaker system doesn’t prioritize goal differential? That’s right; heading into the 88th minute, Italy were looking to win the Group as Spain and Croatia battled to 0-0 because of their goals scored in a mini-league between the eligible teams, which means no Ireland goals counted which, what? Not a fan of the system, for sure. Andres Iniesta and Jesus Navas made it irrelevant in the 88th, on a beautiful move that finally broke down Croatia’s offside trap. Fabregas chipped to Iniesta, who played in Navas (behind the ball, onside) and he tapped in the win.


I might be able to score from there. might.

Spain win! Yes, but… yikes. They left it very late. Torres struggled in isolation up top; his game is best suited to making solo runs and punishing defenses that have pushed forward. No one does that against Spain; the team hold the ball like no team in history, win it back with lightning quickness and opposing sides are forced to put everyone behind the ball. Every once in a while, teams will counter and threaten Spain (see Italy), and Croatia did this to great effect, with Luka Modric putting an inch perfect ball to the far post, only to have this happen:




Saint Iker

If that had gone in, Spain were about to be knocked out of the Tournament. That is worrying; with no coherent attack at this point, no focal point that can play in the sweeping, attacking style of the Spanish midfield, Spain walked a true tightrope in this match. That close to going home, but it is, as they say, a game of inches.

Croatia, well, it sucks that they are gone. They played attractive, smart, tactically astute football for the entire Tournament; you get the feeling they would have qualified in Group A or D. That’s the draw and those are the breaks. Still, you have to be impressed with Manduzukic and Modric, with the quality of the team and the manager Slavan Bilic, who has managed his last match for the team (he’s off to club football). Croatia stayed in it until very late, but didn’t have the one magic touch they needed to win the match. These are the breaks.


Headed home

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Euro 2012 | Match Day 7

The Euro 2012 has claimed its first victim: The Republic of Ireland are the first team knocked out of the tournament, which is sad for me (big fan of Ireland) but hey, deserved; the rest of Group C have produced excellent, competitive football. This has been a great Tournament so far, with 11 of 12 teams still alive on the final day of Group play. Group C provided two very different matches on their second match day, each thrilling in its own way. To the recaps!

Croatia v Italy

Two matches, two leads lost, two draws; the Italian philosophy of “score and shut the door” has been a failure so far. And while every team in the world can be forgiven for shipping a goal to Spain, Mario Mandzukic ’s 72nd minute strike, which cancelled out a brilliant, clinical 39th minute Andrea Pirlo free kick, was a different story; the game should have been done and dusted by the time the Croatians found the net. Italy were simply unable to convert their chances, with blog favorite striker Mario Balotelli missing a slew of opportunities. The Italians seemed to fade in terms of their commitment and their fitness; by the time Ivan Strinic’s great cross found Mandzukic on the far post, it seemed like the simple mistake of leaving him unmarked was a symptom of Italy’s plan to sit back and defend. You must play positive, possession football when you can. It doesn’t mean you cannot defend, but you have to play smart.

Highlights:


Kiss Your Sister.

A quick word on Pirlo– how about that free kick? Classic Pirlo, he’s been an ageless wonder this tournament. Incredible to see him play at this level at age 33; you cannot hide as a CAM, and his ability to make plays has lead directly to both of Italy’s goals this Tournament. On the other hand, you have to wonder about Daniele De Rossi, who has been brilliant playing in a modified “sweeper” role at the back, and what he might be able to do if Italy went to a single striker, played a true back four and put De Rossi in a more advanced DM role. You just get the feeling that manager Cesare Prandelli is playing a little too much with his players in odd positions and while the team have been very good, if he’s serious about locking the door, he may want to add some possession to the midfield while adding to the back line.


He can’t do it all: Italy’s Andrea Pirlo

Croatia, on the other hand, have put themselves in good shape to go through. If they can earn a draw with Spain, it would go a long way toward helping them into the next round. Spain will be playing, though; with two teams on four points and Italy likely to earn five points by beating Ireland, it could come down to the third (goal differential) or fourth (goals scored) tiebreakers to decide the Group.


Ya Heard? Mandzukic makes it 1-1

Republic of Ireland v Spain

OK. What can you say? This was a total destruction, one of the most dominant performances you are likely to ever see at an international tournament. The gulf in class could be measured in miles. I mean, this…


God Damn.

Let’s look at some statistics to outline Spain’s dominance, shall we?

4-0 score (duh)
20 shots on goal vs 4 for Ireland
860 passes attempted
78% of possession
Xavi broke the Euro record for passing, completing 127 of 136 passes
Xavi and Iniesta combined had more successful passes than the entire Irish team


Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

I could go on all day. This was Spain at its most incredible. Even Fernando Torres looked to his old Liverpool-era form, which, wow. Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso absolutely bossed the match like nothing I’ve ever seen. I won’t rub it in any more. Like I said, what can you say?

They’ll want to keep it going; Spain have to be nailed on as favorites against Croatia and to win Group C. Good news for Italy? Stay tuned.