Ciaran Bonass talks gives us the match highlights from Gdanks where a top class Spain outclassed Republic of Ireland 4-0.
“It will be like Muhammed Ali fighting a dwarf.” That was the assessment of former Irish international and current Spanish tv pundit Michael Robinson ahead of the Group C clash between Ireland and Spain in Gdansk. It seemed a disrespectful and exaggerated analogy at the time and that certainly proved to be the case after Ireland suffered their worst competitive defeat for 41 years in a 4-0 drubbing which made them the first team to be knocked out of Euro 2012 – surely the dwarf would have made a much better fist of it.
The cold facts are that the Spanish team completed more passes – almost one thousand – than any other in a European Championship game and through the simply majestic Xavi Hernandez – with over one hundred – more passes than any individual in the history of the tournament and they could have scored more. The comparisons to Ali may be entirely justified too, although it’s ironic that so many of Spain’s players are so small in stature, but if this side do go on to win their third major trophy in succession they can surely lay claim to being ‘The Greatest’ international football has ever bore witness to, few would bet against the 3/1 pre-tournament favourites now.
Giovanni Trappattoni made one change to the Irish side that had gone down 3-1 to Croatia in their opening group game with Simon Cox coming in for Kevin Doyle but it was the only change to Vicente Del Bosque’s starting eleven as Fernando Torres came into the team to give the European champions a recognised centre forward up front at the expense of Cesc Fabregas, an injustice to him it could be argued after he grabbed a crucial equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Italy, but it was a decision which would be entirely vindicated after only four minutes.
Torres was released when a tackle from Richard Dunne on the edge of the box popped into his path and he went round Stephen Ward easily before unleashing a powerful finish high to the net and Ireland were behind in the first five minutes for the second game in succession. That the score remained so for the remainder of the half was partly due to some slack finishing from Spain and partly on account of some desperate last ditch tackling from Trapattoni’s rearguard, but deja vu wasn’t long in making another unwanted appearance before the Italian’s eyes.
Spain struck the killer goal less than five minutes after half-time, just as Croatia had done in Poznan, through David Silva when the Manchester City midfielder collected Shay Given’s weak parry, turned three Irish defenders this way then that before cheekily curling the ball around them all, and Given for good measure, and into the bottom corner. From that point on the only question was how many more would follow. Two was the answer as Torres collected Silva’s through ball and strode clean through to slip it by Given at his near post and then his replacement Fabregas gave a remainder to Del Bosque of his qualities, and everyone else of the awesome depth of talent at the manager’s disposal, when he smashed in off the post from an acute angle inside the last ten minutes.
For Ireland there was no great shame in being a distant second to such formidable opponents but it was a brutal exposure of their flaws and a sobering reminder of the gulf in class and huge difficulties at the top level for a squad who didn’t feature one player in the Champions League last season. Spain will need at least a point from their encounter with Croatia to ensure their qualification for the knockout phase but on this form they will comfortably achieve it – their goals will rightfully be set much higher than that.