It was the turn of group C which is the group that’s not quite as hard as group B. It meant that yet again another top notch team was heading out of the competition, would it be Croatia or Italy? Or could the football gods conspire to create a bizarre sequence of events to eliminate Spain? I was certainly hoping so. Also going home, were Ireland.
Spain versus Croatia
Spain aren’t always great to watch, but it’s not their fault. Against Italy they suffered from not having a natural focal point and when Torres came on, the game became more interesting, especially as Torres always seems to be involved in some kind of drama, either missing chances or if it’s against Ireland, scoring them. The thing is, everyone knows how Spain are going to play so they set up accordingly. You can’t really do anything about it, you can’t change the game and no coach is so wonky in his brain box as to attempt to open up the game, attack them full on and see what happens.
Croatia dropped a striker and played an extra midfield player. Standard practise against Spain. When a team does this it usually makes for a less entertaining game. This time it was Nikita Jelavic who was sacrificed in honour of Spain’s midfield. Croatia adopted the standard anti-Spain approach, sat deep, became hard to break down and looked to hit on the break. Spain did what they do and passed the ball around a lot, often the passes were simple, sometimes they were extravagantly awesome, but the game lacked tempo because Croatia weren’t pressing the ball and if that happens you’re kind of relying on Spain playing well to make a game of it and for the most part, they didn’t play that well at all.
Sometimes in a game you get a chance you know you have to take. I believe in chances, international football is all about chances because you might only get one. Against Spain, Croatia got a really good chance and when they didn’t take it, I felt that was it for them. It fell to Ivan Rakitic who is not a great header of the football. It was superbly crafted by Luka Modric, who with movement and poise that would fit right in to the Spanish midfield ghosted passed players before delivering a cross with the outside of his right foot perfectly onto the head of Ivan Rakitic, who headed it straight at Iker Casillas. Poo poo bum poo bum is a good summation of my feelings at the time.
The game continued and eventually Croatia knew they would have to go and try and win it. Spain had taken off Torres and brought on the pace of Jesus Navas who had Spain’s chance. The thing is, when Spain make a chance, it’s usually a really good one, it might take them 90 minutes of seemingly pointless passing waffle that appears to be going nowhere, but sooner or later they will click and create something and so it was here. Fabregas played a beautiful clipped pass, lofted like a wedge for the run of Inieta who looked like he could have been offside, he controlled it with what looked like it could have been handball and squared it to Navas who looked like he couldn’t miss, because he was a yard from goal with nobody anywhere near him. He smashed it in and Spain had won the game.
Italy versus Ireland
Apparently Ireland were hoping to restore some pride in this game. I think that’s unfair, as it suggests they should be ashamed of their previous performances, which I don’t think is true. Ireland are shit. They’ve done well to qualify. Then they got put in a group with three good teams. No shame there if you ask me, just shitness. Saying they had pride to play for is almost another way of saying you don’t believe that this Irish team are really that shit, but you’d be wrong, because they are and Italy knew that if they beat them they had a great chance to progress to the knock-out rounds.
Italy did beat them. Of course they did. It wasn’t a close game, Ireland could have lost by more. The most disappointing thing about Ireland is in each game they’ve just sat there, worked hard and waited to be beaten. At no stage have they really caused any of the team’s they’ve faced serious problems, except for a brief spell against Croatia where they scored and an even briefer spell against Italy where they didn’t. They weren’t helped by leaking early goals in their first two games and perhaps if they had held out for longer they would have had more success, but they never really looked like doing that or going anywhere. The magic that seemed to surround previous Ireland team’s just didn’t seem to be there this time, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that Keith Andrews got to start for them in midfield. In my opinion Keith Andrews is like a very shit version of Gareth Barry, who is far from being a good starting point.
The Italians sadly dropped their 3-5-2 and went with a far more conventional 4-4-2. At one point, with Italy winning 1-0 and Croatia holding Spain at 0-0 Italy were going to top the group. This gave me great pleasure in daring to dream that England might avoid Spain in the unlikely event we don’t mess it up against Ukraine. Much like Germany, Spain were a kick away from going out of the competition, despite dominating most of their games, but it didn’t happen. Italy are an intriguing prospect, I’m not sure how they’ll line up for their next game, which makes them the polar opposite to Spain. The biggest worry will be an injury to Giorgio Chiellini, who limped off and didn’t look at all happy.
Mario Balotelli came on and scored a lovely goal and then celebrated like an angry mad man as only he can. My love for Balotelli grows each time I see him play. He’s a character, he’s unpredictable and he’s prone to do something stupid at basically any moment. I’m amazed that after his Jekyll and Hyde display against Spain he started again against Croatia. I wasn’t surprised to see him dropped for Di Natale for this game, Di Natale is entirely sensible, reliable, works hard for the team, has great movement and scored a good goal against Spain. The thing is, when Super Mario came on he scored a ridiculously good goal and that’s why he’s in the squad, because he can do that, at any moment, he’s worth the risk. He then tried to celebrated and let everyone know he was the man and should never be a sub, but was unfortunately restrained from doing so by his team-mates. I would very much enjoy it if he scored against the French and produced a classic Mario message on his under-shirt.
Day Eleven, football heaven (Well not really, but it rhymes with eleven, it was more of a decent day)
Ireland are going home but we knew that already. By only losing 2-0 to Italy they managed to avoid having the worst record ever by a team in the finals of a European Championship, by 1 goal, so congratulations to them for that. Croatia are out which has upset me a bit. It looked likely when the draw was made, but now having seen Denmark and Netherlands already eliminated and being greeted by the prospect of having to watch Greece play again, it really does go to show just how bad the seeding and the resulting draw it produced were. It has made for some exciting group games but to try and claim that Greece and the Czech Republic are among the best eight teams in the competition is laughable, so I fully expect at least one of them to win their first knock-out game.
Highlight of the day: Keith Andrews getting sent off. It was hilarious. Already on a yellow, a second yellow for dissent was never going to go down well. The ref had been irritating the Irish players all game and it’s no surprise that someone got sent off and that the player in question was Andrews. To be fair that ref (Turkey’s Cüneyt Çakır) is an inept little toad, but Andrews reaction to being dismissed, angrily booting a ball away, will most likely result in an extended ban from UEFA, which is probably a good thing for Ireland as it can only serve to increase the likelihood of Wes Hoolahan finally getting a game for them.