GDANSK, Poland – The passes connected, the goals flowed – even for Fernando Torres – and Spain took care of business against Ireland, claiming a comfortable 4-0 victory at Euro 2012.
In a match that Spain dominated from start to finish, Torres scored on either side of halftime, while David Silva and Cesc Fabregas scored La Roja’s other goals. Ireland, meanwhile, was the first team to be eliminated from the tournament.
That Spain strolled to comfortable victory will not come as a surprise given the way Ireland struggled in its opener against Croatia. But in the wake of David Villa failing to make Spain's roster because he's recovering after breaking his leg in December, the sight of Torres getting on the score sheet will be a welcome sight for the team.
The starting lineups saw one change for each side. Cesc Fabregas, scorer of Spain’s goal against Italy, made way for Torres, while for Ireland, Simon Cox replaced Kevin Doyle.
Against the form book, it was Ireland that threatened in the first minute, as Cox stung the palms of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a fierce drive. But Torres had the reigning champs on top just three minutes later. David Silva collected a pass near the top of the box, only for his progress to be stopped by a Richard Dunne tackle. But Torres was quickest to pounce on the loose ball, and after touching the ball to his right, he fired his shot past Irish goalkeeper Shay Given. It marked the second time in as many matches that Ireland conceded inside the first five minutes.
Spain twice nearly doubled its advantage inside of a minute. Silva shot straight at Given, and then Torres blasted his one-timer wide after Alvaro Arbeloa’s knockdown.
The game took on a predictable pattern thereafter. Ireland struggled to play out of its own half, forcing it to pass backward or launch long balls right into the teeth of Spain’s defense. On the rare occasions when Ireland penetrated Spain’s half, the likes of Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady were left to try and conjure something up on their own.
La Roja simply set up shop in Ireland’s half looking for the second goal that would essentially put the game away. Yet the second tally proved elusive. Andres Iniesta’s 23rd minute drive was palmed away by Given, but other than that, Ireland’s defense held, even as it was often stretched to the breaking point.
Ireland did create a half-chance just before halftime, with Cox playing a pass to Keane inside the box, but his attempt at a goal was blocked by the Spanish defense.
The second half began in identical fashion, as Silva scored in the 49th minute. Iniesta’s shot was parried straight in front of goal by Given to Silva, and he waited patiently for an opening before scoring on a low drive just past Given’s outstretched hand.
Spain continued to assert its dominance, and Xavi nearly added a third in the 56th minute, but his shot was superbly saved by Given, who dove to his right at full stretch to deny the Spaniard.
It proved to be a brief respite. Torres bagged his second in the 70th minute, taking a through ball from Silva, outpacing the Irish defense and slotting his shot past a helpless Given. Fabregas rounded out the scoring in the 83rd minute, taking a short corner inside the box and firing a tight-angled shot just inside the far post.
Man of the Match: In a performance as dominating as this one, there are certainly some worthy contenders. Given deserves special mention, and although he will no doubt wish he had done better in the lead-up to Silva’s tally, he made several splendid saves, with a second-half stop on Xavi the best of the lot.
But honor is due to Torres. After missing two clear-cut opportunities against Italy, the Chelsea striker took his goals well. Certainly tougher assignments than Ireland await, but manager Vicente Del Bosque can only hope that this is a sign of things to come. At the least, Spain’s later foes will have been given something to think about.
Final Verdict for Spain: La Roja achieved the result it needed and even got Torres on the scoreboard. Even better, Spain padded its goal difference to the point where it could jump over Croatia, which tied Italy earlier in the day 1-1. Now the champions face a tricky encounter against the Croats on the final day of group play, with the winner likely advancing and the loser going home. If the sides tie and Italy prevails over Ireland, as expected, all three teams would have five points, and the tiebreaker madness would begin.
Final Verdict for Ireland: The Boys in Green were long on effort but short on talent to hang with a team like Spain, and they were the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. Given the difficult draw they received, that’s not necessarily as embarrassing as it sounds. That said, Ireland’s penchant for conceding early goals to start the half was critical as well as puzzling when you consider some the stout defensive displays the team delivered during qualifying. Ireland will have a part to play on the final day of group play. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni would love nothing better than to deny Italy, his birth country, a spot in the knockout stages.