I was salivating at the prospect of watching Spain take on Italy. I must have looked like a man that hadn’t eaten for a week stood at the front of the line for the burgers at a BBQ. Group C isn’t quite the group of death but it’s got lots to offer and the biggest match of the tournament so far saw Italy take on the current holders Spain. In the other game the Irish got their campaign off and running against Croatia.
Spain versus Italy
Isn’t it nice when there’s a tactical surprise, but why settle for one when you can have two? Spain lined up with six midfield players, with Cesc Fabregas the nominal forward playing as a false nine. Apparently the Spanish are so good that picking an out and out goal scorer is cheating. Italy, perhaps in an effort to combat this, went with a 3-5-2 formation with Daniel Di Rossi in the sweeper role, which he seemed to take too like a natural. Both teams looked excellent and made their own systems work for them.
The Spanish have so many world class players, but Andres Iniesta always finds a way to impress me just that little bit more than everyone else. He’s so lively, he’s so inventive and unpredictable, he glides around on his toes nipping in here and out there, with and without the ball it’s fantastic to watch.
Andrea Pirlo is certainly a world class player that Italy have in their ranks and his contribution to the game was equally impressive. He dictates the tempo of a game, all his passes are clever, he rarely if ever gives the ball away and at any moment he has the ability to unleash a killer pass or deadly shot.
The game was sumptuous. Skill and technique were everywhere but not just in possession. Giorgio Chiellini in one of the best defenders in the world and consistently put in strong tackles with excellent timing. Then just when you’re lured into thinking you might have a chance two fantastic goalkeepers, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon were on hand to deny the opportunity.
Both goals were breathtakingly good in there execution. Pirlo stroad forward, beating a player, opening up space, before releasing Antonio Di Natale who converted the chance just like I would have done were I controlling him on FIFA, with real finesse. Not to be outdone Spain pulled a goal back soon afterwards, a clever run and pass from Iniesta found David Silva who produced a delightful little chopped through ball which found the run of Fabregas who swept it home with his left foot.
Fernando Torres did come on, which was a surprise given the strong nature of Spain’s bench and he managed to miss some chances and generally remind everyone that he’s not in a particularly good vein of form, based on that display expect to see Fernando Llorente next time.
Still Torres aside it was a great game, great to watch, great players, great teams, great.
Ireland versus Croatia
Ireland’s plan is always to keep it tight, they lasted two minutes. This game promised to be a match of technical ability against work-rate and good old fashioned direct football, perhaps similar to how England versus France will be. I for one hope England don’t go the same way as Ireland, as their plan to keep it tight simply didn’t work. The reason? They defended terribly.
Kevin Doyle got praise from Jim Beglin for his work rate, but this is a striker who in recent years consistently doesn’t score goals. Then you look at Stephan Ward and think, how are this team at the finals? They both suffered relegation with Wolves. Richard Dunne didn’t have the best season for Villa, the same is true for John O’Shea at Sunderland and the highlight of Sean St. Ledger’s season was probably scoring against Norwich in the F.A cup. It may be harsh but on that evidence the idea of Ireland being hard to beat looks very far-fetched. Even Shay Given had a bit of a mare, poor for the first goal and headed the third into his own net.
Still, their record is decent and every team can have an off day, perhaps they were overcome by nerves or simply didn’t get the luck. They certainly should have had a penalty when Robbie Keane was felled and if that’s tucked away for 3-2 then who knows? Trouble is they now have to play Spain then Italy, so their chances look slim, they’ll be hoping that at the very least they can restore some pride and look a bit harder to beat in their next two games.
As for Croatia, they knocked it around nicely and they’ve got a couple of front men who can find the net. They’ll ask a few questions of the Spanish and the Italians and as ever Modric was impressive in the middle of the park completely running the game.
Day Three or not Day Three
Good day’s football very much enjoyed. Ireland will be hugely disappointed but what better way to get over it than to look forward to your team getting an absolute humping from Spain and Italy. Even a bit of familiar rain wasn’t enough to help the Irish out.
Mario Balotelli made no real contribution to the game today expect to get booked. He also missed a fantastic chance and showed a phenomenal bit of skill to trap the ball at one point. History won’t say much about his role in today’s game, but having watched it he’s worth mentioning simply because he’s so brilliantly entertaining, sadly I fear we might not see much more of him during the tournament.
Highlight of the day: ITV’s pundit panel for the Spain Italy game was superb. Roberto Martinez loves talking. He loves talking about football, about tactics, about players, his enthusiasm is infections and enjoyable. Patrick Vieira isn’t afraid to offer an opinion and Gordon Strachan was lively, insightful and entertaining, kudos ITV, take note BBC.