Day seven was always going to be about Spain versus the Irish fans, who could the media fall over backwards to praise more? There was also Italy and Croatia, in a game that promised to deliver the unexpected, but if the unexpected is expected then is it really unexpected? Yes.
Croatia versus Italy
Italy have this way of dominating games without really doing anything. They have by far the most interesting tactical set up of any team in the competition and they use it largely to good effect. Mostly this seems to involve allowing Pirlo to do whatever he wants, which I imagine isn’t a bad tactical idea as right now he’s playing pretty much at the top of his game. His free-kick was lovely. It was the first direct free-kick scored in the European Championship finals since 2004, in reality there aren’t that many direct free-kicks scored, which is perhaps why they are so hard to score FIFA.
This game was split, like most, into two halves. Expect that the teams seemed to decide they would have a half each. Italy took the first half and won it 1-0, Croatia took the second and did the same, so a draw was probably a fair result. Croatia’s half came about when Bilic seemed to adopt the idea of his Italian counter-part Prandelli and set the team up around Modric, moving him forward into a “free” role allowed them to attack to far better effect.
There were lots of people on twitter making comparisons between Pirlo and Modric, at half time when Pirlo had run the show the vote was in for the Italian, but by the end of the game there wasn’t nearly as much outrage that Modric might in fact also be quite a good player. They are not entirely similar players but if I was forced to choose and I would opt for Pirlo.
Croatia’s goal came from a horrible misjudgement from Giorgio Chiellini, who got caught under the ball missing his header in school boy fashion. I’m not entirely sure about the workings of the universe but having said how good a player he was in a previous blog after Italy’s draw against Spain, I reckon it was probably the reason that directly caused him to miss the ball, such is the power of internet blogging.
Spain versus Ireland
Spain against the Irish fans was the game of the day. Obviously on the pitch there was no contest, with Spain dominating Ireland in the way that a Yokozuna would dominate an infant child in a wrestling match. They basically sat on them and stopped them breathing and then picked them up and with expert technique slapped them about until it was almost painful to watch, thankfully they pushed past the painful to watch stage and kept going until it became funny again.
The Irish fans are great, they sing and they cheer and they support the team and have a great time. Which does beg the question, isn’t that what all fans do? I suppose that would be like saying the fact that Spain pass the ball and score goals is nothing special as that’s what all teams are supposed to do. So fair play to the Irish fans, when in the face of their truly awful team they were able to put a brave face on it and sing their hearts out which was great to hear.
Before the finals Ireland hadn’t lost in quite a while. 14 games unbeaten since they lost to Uruguay in March 2011. Trapattoni said that he thought fear had got to the team in a way that it hadn’t in qualifying, certainly the pressure of a major tournament took its toll but the team looked tired in both body and mind, they were simply out of ideas about how to cope with Spain. This is probably the end of this generation of Ireland players and it certainly looks like the team could do with a makeover, perhaps this could finally be the chance for Wes Hoolahan.
As far as the game went Spain kept the ball, made loads of chances, scored four goals, all of which were of impressive quality. Torres took his goals well and could well be “back”. When you see Spain put on a show like this it does make me wonder why nobody predicted them to win in our predictions blog. I guess we’re all hoping for a change, but on this evidence Spain look like they are here to break the record and win a third successive major tournament.
What’s in the box? It’s the end of Day Se7en
Spain send Ireland home. Italy and Croatia leave it till the last game. Would you rather be in Italy’s position knowing that you have to beat Ireland, or Croatia’s knowing that you will probably need a point against Spain unless the already despatched Irish can do you a favour? I think Italy will do enough to get through, but I don’t imagine they’ll make it easy on themselves.
Highlight of the day: Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick, as good as Spain’s goals were, there is something special about a bit of dead ball magic and I genuinely celebrated when it went in.