Spain 1 Italy 1 - Republic of Ireland 1 Croatia 3
Lazy Sunday afternoon and a group opener between the winners of the last two World Cups, it doesn't get much better than this, does it? Well, with Del Bosque deciding to play without a recognised forward and Donadoni opting for the mercurial skills of Balotelli, this match was set-up for a fascinating confrontation. And it didn't disappoint with Di Natale putting the Italians ahead on the hour after the aforementioned Balotelli had been substituted - possibly after dithering in front of goal when clean through - while Spain equalised just four mintes later when Fabregas picked up on a Silva pass.
There was plenty of neat, passing football, skillful players by the team load and the usual comments about poor Fernando Torres - am I the only one who thinks he seems to get more criticism than is warranted? - and the type of play you'd expect from two sides brimming with the confidence gained from winning tournaments. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff.
Later, the Republic of Ireland came unstuck early on against Croatia when a weak Mandzukic header somewhow drifted into the corner of the Irish net after just three minutes. It was such a shame after a sterling National Anthem had suggested Ireland might go hell for leather early on to try and draw the sting from one of the host nations. Things went a bit quiet for 15 minutes before Corluka was adjudged to have fouled Doyle and from the resulting free kick Sean St Ledger got ahead of poor Corluka to put the Irish level amongst crazy scenes on the terraces.
The game then became a fairly even, full-blooded affair in heavy rain and, although Ireland were being forced deeper in the final ten minutes of the half, looked to be heading for equality at half-time until Jelavic poked home unmarked after a ball had been diverted to him by Ward. The Irish claimed Jelavic was off-side when the initial pass was made but with the new phases ruling in place - and I'll have to get the condiments out to check - I'm pretty sure it was OK.
If the Republic hoped to do to Croatia what they had done in the first half, the stuffing was knocked out of them pretty quickly after the restart. On 48 minutes, it was Mandzukic who got his head to a left wing cross, the ball hitting the post and coming off Givens' head, the Irish keeper effectively nodding it over the line to make it 3-1 to the Croats.
Keane was rightly incensed after the hour when he was denied a spot kick for a clear foul from behind by Schildenfeld but the game was really in Croatia's hands now and Rakatic was inches wide with what would have been a lovely goal. Andrews went close twice in as many minutes as Croatia sat back and went inches wide again as the board went up to indicate five extra minutes, but you couldn't really argue with the tactic or the eventual result as the home nation ran out comfortable winners.
Not much you can say really, Ireland looked sloppy in defence and Super Slav's tea-cosy went well with his suit.
Tomorrow I start a new contract and England play France. Quite how the day is going to pan out I can't quite envisage at the moment but expect a confused, possibly alcohol induced ramble about midnight tomorrow. Can't wait!