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.