Euro 2012: Spain held to frustrating tie by Italy, Croatia tops Ireland

Spain Italy (Getty Images)

By FRANCO PANIZO

Spain's title defense is off to an underwhelming start.

The reigning Euro champions were held to a 1-1 draw with Italy on Sunday in a Euro 2012 Group C opener that was full of frustration for the Spanish side. Italy scored first through a finish from Antonio Di Natale in the 61st minute, but Spain leveled the scored when Cesc Fabregas netted three minutes later.

Both teams had chances to jump in front and claim the three points, but neither was able to break the deadlock. Substitute forward Fernando Torres had two quality opportunities to put Spain ahead, yet he failed to convert on both of them.

Spain dominated possession in the match for large stretches while Italy was content to hit back on the counter. The Spanish fell behind, however, when Di Natale got on the end off a pass from Andrea Pirlo and buried a shot home. Fabregas made sure that lead would not last long, finishing off a quality passing sequence from inside the penalty area shortly after.

In Group C's other game:

CROATIA 3, IRELAND 1

Ireland returned to a big international tournament for the first time in 10 years, but not in the way they would have hoped.

Ireland got off to a losing start in Euro 2012, falling to Croatia, 3-1, in the second Group C match on Sunday. The Croats looked the better side in the match, and a late first-half strike from Nikica Jelavic proved to be the winner.

Full of hope entering the match, Ireland had its spirits crushed early as Mario Mandzukic headed home the first of his two goals three minutes in. The Irish responded through a headed goal of their own from Sean St. Ledger in the 19th minute, but Jelavic scored the winner two minutes from halftime.

Mandzukic then hit the dagger shortly after the intermission, heading a ball that smacked the post, deflected off of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given's head and into the back of the net.

Ireland did seem to have an opportunity to pull one back when Los Angeles Galaxy forward Robbie Keane was brought down in the box in the 63rd minute, but shouts for a penalty kick went unheard.

GROUP C STANDINGS

1. Croatia (3 points, 1-0-0, +2 GD)

T-2. Italy (1 point, 0-0-1, 0 GD)

T-2. Spain (1 point, 0-0-1, 0 GD)

4. Ireland (0 points, 0-1-0, -2 GD)

———–

What did you think of these Group C matches? Surprised by Spain's inability to break down the Italian defense for a second goal? Thinking Ireland has no chance to get out of the group now that they lost to Croatia?

Share your thoughts below.

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34 Responses to Euro 2012: Spain held to frustrating tie by Italy, Croatia tops Ireland

  1. Mike says:

    This was going to be the toughest match for Spain in the entire tournament. Italy’s defense is still the best in the world and their style of play is the perfect antithesis to Spain’s total football style.

    For the same reason Barcelona struggles with Italian teams, Spain was going to struggle with Italy. Getting a point from this and really dominating the match should be considered a good opportunity.

  2. leftcoatmetro says:

    Well, yeah, except they didn’t dominate anything, EXCEPT possession, which was obvious going in. The Italians played a stellar tactical game and arguably had a better shot at winning the game. And it wasn’t at all negative 11-behind-the-ball soccer.

    I do agree that Spain will probably win the group at this point, but Italy had a better day by far.

  3. joejoe says:

    Spain not having a point man from the beginning was a mistake. Torres should have started. They would have three points now.

  4. Mike says:

    Spain outshot Italy almost 2-1, had 4 times the corners and almost doubled them up on quality scoring chances.

  5. Kevin G. says:

    Ha! what game where you watching?

  6. Ricky B. Stupid says:

    If Torres started, they would have never scored a goal

  7. Alex says:

    Spain didn’t dominate possession until after the first goal was scored. Until then italy was in control

  8. David J S says:

    that’s ridiculous. Torres was barely on for 15 minutes and had 2 golden chances. If he plays 90′ he probably scores one and sets up one and Spain wins 3-1. What did Torres ever do to have everyone hate him so much? He’s like the Lebron of world football…

  9. Jamie Z. says:

    I’m not going to condemn the 4-6-0 based on yesterday’s evidence alone, but if Spain want to get out of the group, they need to score goals, not just dominate possession, and Fernando Torres or “no strikers at all” doesn’t fill me with hope for incisive offense. I don’t understand why in there world there aren’t more shouts for Llorente. If you you pick your strikers on form, Torres shouldn’t see the pitch except as a substitute.

    I enjoyed the late match. I’d really like to see Croatia bring the same energy to their next two matches and advance from the group.

  10. Kevin_amold says:

    A ton of people have shouted for Llorente.

  11. Brad says:

    Italy looked a lot sharper than I was expecting.

    Spain has to play with a striker from the start of the game, or they will not score enough.

  12. BrianK says:

    Brad,

    Completely agree. Those were the two storylines of the day. This Italy team is not going to go quietly. Once Prandelli figures out that Ballotelli is a waste of of time,…Italy will have 11 players on the field not ten.

    As for Spain,…it was hugely disapointing that Torres Was on the bench to start the game. Firstly,…it hurt the team as they didn’t have a proper striker on the pitch,…a focal point for their attack. Second,…if anyone is wondering why Torres is lacking in confidence, this is the answer. He must be thinking,…”am I that bad that my coach would play an extra midfielder instead of me?”

  13. Seriously says:

    Stats do not tell the story of soccer this is not baseball. Italy had the better of Spain and looked far more of a threat going forward. Spain took several long range shots that were never going to trouble Buffon. Spain had three really solid opportunities but Torres was on the end of two of them and he is just a pathetic finisher right now and did not look like scoring, the other fell to Fabregas and he put it away. Italy forced several real saves from Casillas.

  14. jg says:

    I like Torres, despite his EPL woes, which I think are over-magnified, but he was inept yesterday. I can’t remember ever seeing a keeper pick a striker clean on the dribble like Buffon did to him yesterday. Not even in a rec league. It was embarrassing to watch. Ballotelli-esque. Then that awful chip…Buffon got into his head.

  15. RB says:

    “in the entire tournament?”

    Strange comment. So Italy is the second best team in Euro 2012? Or you assume the first game is even harder than winning the final? Or…?

  16. byrdman says:

    He has been lacking confidence for quite some time. Not just today. Maybe because he can’t seem to finish. Anywhere.

    Llorente has to start next game.

  17. Adam says:

    Finally someone who watched the same game I watched! Italy wore down toward the end but before Spain scored Italy was dictating the play. Too many reports are lazily just reporting what they were expecting to happen instead of actually analyzing the game.

  18. Mig22 says:

    I think Spain did just fine using the 4-6-0. They had slightly better opportunities (poor Torres!) while Italy played a damn fine game. There were 11 middies out there….crowded stuff and the teams still managed to play an effective and entertaining game.

    I can see del Bosque using this formation against less defensively stout teams and devastating them.

    In the end though, I don’t believe this was a ‘frustrating draw’ for Spain (or for Italy). Toughest opponent and both get a point. Ireland is unfortunately in for a big helping of whoop-a$$ I think.

  19. jg says:

    I fear you are correct. Ireland looked abysmal yesterday. I was screaming at the screen there was so much ball-watching in the defense. That I had the time to scream says it all. And Given looked ancient even though he was strong on crosses/corners. I think he must still be nursing an injury.

    Clearly neither Spain or Italy can be too disappointed with yesterday’s result, and it makes it that much harder for the other two teams when the two best pick up a point each in their group match.

  20. jones says:

    yes! Thanks for pointing this out.

  21. jones says:

    leftcoatmetro – did you watch the entire match?

    Spain were actually slow and lousy possession-wise until Itlay’s 60′ goal snapped them out of it. Italy clearly had better possession in the first half.

    I couldn’t believe how bad Spain were at keeping the ball with all those midfielders in there. They stood around and lost the ball, and no one was driving them forward.

  22. Mig22 says:

    Agree, Ireland’s defense looked pretty bad…but is Croatia better than we think? We shall see but as a neutral I think the results here make for a very entertaining setup (except for those poor dudes in green).

  23. jones says:

    imo, they needed not just a striker, but at least one winger. I also think it hurt to have Ramos playing centerback, as you lose that dimension of his pace up the wing.

  24. RK says:

    Most of those Spanish shots were blocked and should have never been taken in the first place. That’s what made it so obvious, to me, that they needed an actual striker.

  25. RK says:

    Torres hadn’t done well in WC10 (I believe he was slowed by injury) or the last Euro, either.

  26. jg says:

    I think the only hope for Ireland is that the central defense tightens and that includes defensive mids. Yesterday they were passive and out of position frequently, but they have shut down good teams before. They are strong in the air, which means Spain will want to tiki-taka down the center per usual (especially if the Irish defense amounts to green traffic cones) or turn the corner on the wings (and Ireland does not look very swift there either). The other option is to shoot from distance with Given in the shape he’s in. Or all the above. I may have to bring a blindfold.

    Croatia was opportunistic, and there is a lot to be said for that, obviously, but the only player that really impressed me was Modric, who was just brilliant. It will be interesting to see how they hold up against teams that can control possession and have better ball skills.

  27. jg says:

    Above in response to Mig22. Somehow missed that exit.

  28. marco says:

    Barcelona didn’t win titles with Cesc as the false #9 and Spain won’t win Euro with him there. Del Bosque waited too long to exploit the Italy back 3. Torres had a few opportunities but continued his poor finishing.

  29. marco says:

    I agree, Del Bosque waited too long.

  30. jg says:

    I don’t recall very well so I am happy to take your word for it. Notwithstanding the howler yesterday and a dreadful blown pass I remember a couple very slick moves on the wings. There’s been a lot of piling on Torres, but he still pulls great stuff out of his hat sometimes. Maybe Spain has better options, but we could use him on the US team, that’s for sure.

  31. Manny says:

    What I do not understand is why everybody assumed Italy was not going to be a solid team? Why wouldn’t it be? It certainly is not a contender but it should make it out of the group. And no, Spain were never going to score 3 or 4 on them.
    Spain looked at half speed. The passing was not very crisp and Del Bosque stuck to his conservative plan- to maintain possession. I think he is concerned with his central defense and how easily it can be split with runs like DeNatali’s. Busquets and Alonso cannot play together anymore. Alonso is too slow and both have difficulty moving forward, providing cover and tracking back.
    Torres should start. Throughout his time at Chelsea I thought that what he lacked most was proper service, which he gets while playing for Spain. He will continue to create opportunities and will score. Alexi Lalas can continue to yap about Spain on the down cycle but it all comes down to Del Bosque finding the right combination or players to maintain possession, attack with dangerous intentions and not expose the weak back line.

  32. RK says:

    I watched him at Atletico, and he was just fantastic there, but he hasn’t been what he was there — either at Chelsea or Espana. It’s easy to just default to him, but I’d like to see them go with the hot hand (or foot, as it were).

  33. jg says:

    Totally agree. Can’t mess around in a tourney of this stature. Although I think a 4-6-0 could give Ireland’s back line fits. Not that that’s saying much after yesterday.

    Here is an interesting run down from the Guardian on the striker options:

    link to guardian.co.uk

  34. AshortDeparture says:

    Spain would have been better off to start with Navas to exploit the space behind the wingbacks. Early on they didn’t really have anyone with pace stretching the Italian back line or pulling them out of position with runs in behind… something that Barcelona has in Alexis Sanchez for instance.