x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Euro 2012: Spain 4 Ireland 0

Fernando Torres scores twice as Republic of Ireland crash out of European Championship.

Fernando Torres beats Shay Given, the Ireland goalkeeper, to score Spain's first goal during their Group C match in Gdansk, Poland, last night. Matt Dunhan / AP Photo
Fernando Torres beats Shay Given, the Ireland goalkeeper, to score Spain's first goal during their Group C match in Gdansk, Poland, last night. Matt Dunhan / AP Photo

GDANSK, POLAND // They have long held the technique, what helped transform Spain into European and world champions was developing belief. The precision of the Spanish game is dependent on it. A faith in their own abilities carried them through first-game defeat two years previously in South Africa.

"Worried about everything," was how Vicente del Bosque's described his state of mind having shed more early points to Italy. Returning to a Gdansk pitch they had attributed that unexpected Group C draw to, Spain's players began soothing their coach's concerns.

There was an altered formation, the promotion of Fernando Torres to a starter's role, a fine goal from the often fragile forward's very first shot, and another to come. If that brace should bolster the belief of a player whose inclusion improved Spain's shape, the rediscovered coherence of the holders' game will reinforce the team's. Eliminated after two games, Ireland must now play purely for pride.

As green-clad supporters arrived at Gdansk's golden stadium bearing Lidl carrier bags full of beverages, the weather had turned distinctly Hibernian. The dry, slow pitch that so irked the Spanish in their draw with Italy was being watered the Irish way. From the heavens.

With just one point to their names at kick off, Sergio Ramos described the fixture as "a little trap". Seeking to ensure it was exactly that, the grand 'Trap' leading Ireland was not about to alter the fundamentals of his approach.

Giovanni Trapattoni's concession to meeting the holders was to bring Simon Cox in to operate between midfield and attack. The aim, though, remained one of defensive diligence coupled with success at set pieces.

Del Bosque's move was to start with Torres, reshaping his formation with the direct, "reference" striker he had attempted to do without on Sunday. Cesc Fabregas retreated to the bench. On the back of a second successive poor season, irked by his exclusion from the Champions League final, the 28 year old had much to prove. The word was that Torres had begun performing again in training; he needed to demonstrate that here.

It happened for him almost as rapidly as Croatia had scored against the Irish in their opener. After an early flurry from the Irish in which Cox found space 25 yards from goal and stretched Iker Casillas with a shot, Spain reassumed their dominance.

Andres Iniesta provoked Torres' opportunity with a fine pass straight down the middle. David Silva collected that only to be tackled by Richard Dunne. The ball, though, splashed out to Torres, who ripped wide around Stephen Ward and propelled his shot through Shay Given's rising arms.

If it was that form of Torres move and finish we have seen precious little of late, the still greater surprise was that it ended up the only goal of the first half. Spain's superiority was almost absolute; possession statistics of 62 per cent giving lie to the fact that almost none of Ireland's seemed set to last more than a couple of passes.

Trapattoni's men were not helping themselves, frequently working themselves into trouble near their own area or handing the ball over cheaply by firing it long for the struggling Robbie Keane. An obvious discomfort in possession simply encouraged Spain to intensify their pressing game, forcing further errors dangerously close to Given's posts.

In an attempt to raise spirits as strikes rained on and around their goal, an inventive Irish support launched into a rendition of 'Polska, Bialo-Czerwoni'. The favourite chant of Poland's national team brought more smiles than anything their team could provide.

Trapattoni tried switching Cox for Jon Walters for the second half, but Ireland were to start it as they had the first. Four minutes in once more, Iniesta shot powerfully from the left. Given parried that to Silva, who shimmied position in front of three defenders before passing the ball through Dunne's legs and in.

Though Del Bosque began offering game time to his reserves, the goals kept coming. Silva sent Torres one-on-one with Given; he finished again. Fabregas gathered in a low corner kick, arced around the static James McClean, and converted from an embarrassing angle.

For a second consecutive game Ireland had suffered their heaviest finals defeat. At least this one was to football's great believers.


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