Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Taking inventory of Group C’s opening round

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source: Reuters

How we’ll remember …

Italy 1, Spain 1: As one of the best matches of the tournament. Those hoping Italy would quickly bury memories of 2010 were given their reprieve, while Spain overcame a number of obvious deficiencies to provide a good performance. Within Spain’s game you saw a team that should contend for their third straight major title, while Italy now look a good bet to get out of Group C.

Croatia 3, Ireland 1: As a day where Irish hopes were quickly vanquished. In front of what’s become customarily impressive traveling support, the Irish gave up a goal within three minutes. Although they would pull even, they did the same coming out of halftime. The one thing Irish hopes rested on – the reliability of their defense – was taken from them within the tournament’s first hour.

Team of the Day

G: Iker Casillas, Spain
LB: Jordi Alba, Spain
CB: Daniele de Rossi, Italy
CB: Giorgio Chiellini, Italy
RB: Darijo Srna, Croatia
M: Luka Modric, Croatia
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
LW: Ivan Perisic, Croatia
M/F: Andres Iniesta, Spain
SS: Antonio Cassano, Italy
F: Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
Subs: Thiago Motta, Italy; Cesc Fabregas, Spain; Ivan Strinic, Croatia

source: Getty ImagesThree lessons to take home

1. Your stubborn ways will be your undoing – Despite spending the whole match chasing goals, Vicente Del Bosque persisted with Xabi Alonso. Alonso’s a fine player, one of the best passers on the planet – women want him and men want to be him – but a Spain that already features Sergio Busquets at that level, he’s becoming increasingly superfluous. He was a late match substitute under Del Bosque’s predecessor (Luis Aragones) and remains best-suited for that role.

Today, with Spain perpetually on the brink of breaking Italy’s defense, they could have used Pedro Rodriguez. As was later shown, they could have used Jesus Navas (earlier). They needed one extra piece in the final third to wilt that resilient Italy defense. Instead, they had Alonso camped out 10 yards inside their attacking half.

Instead, Del Bosque persisted, stubbornly, a set up that’s taken team from providing to feigning dominance.

A final symptom of Del Bosque’s obstinacy: David Silva was the first player off despite assisting on the only goal (and combining well with Andres Iniesta). Silva was the player Del Bosque sacrificed from the Euro 2008-winning XI to incorporate Alonso. Despite two spectacular years in England that mirror his contributions to Spain’s national team, Silva may not even be in this year’s XI were it not for David Villa’s injury.

All things considered, Silva should be happy to get the hour he did. Del Bosque doesn’t seem to rate him as highly as others do.

Europe’s catching up. Del Bosque can’t continue to inhibit his team. He needs to treat the Italy result as the scare it is. His team did not play bad today, yet they were still drawn by the Italians.

2. There are somethings you just can’t change – Ireland was down to Croatia within three minutes and, despite pulling that goal back, went into halftime down. For a team whose tactics are predicated on goal prevention – hoping to take advantage of teams chasing goals – early deficits become more painful. That Ireland doesn’t have a Plan B makes it even worse.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni can only play his team one way. They work their butts of in their half while maintaining their shape, but a nation of 4.5 million people whose biggest star is finishing out his career with LA Galaxy doesn’t have the resources to have a meaningful Plan B (can you imagine how limited England would be if David Beckham were still one of the their best players). At this point, Ireland can’t change what they are.

The same could be said for Fernando Torres. At this point, he is what he is.

The Chelsea striker had an unfortunately comical substitute’s appearance against Italy. Given three opportunities to generate something, he never put the ball on goal.

At this point, it’s a mistake for Del Bosque to assume Torres is going to change. He should not be brought on ahead of Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, Pedro Rodriguez … Pepe Reina. But Del Bosque has always liked Torres, only dropping him from Spain when he reached his EPL nadir. Odds are, we haven’t seen the last of El Niño.

3. Central defense problems will persist – Only one central defense performed well on Sunday: The one with a midfielder at its center. Cesare Prandelli dropped defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi into the middle of a three, and he was the day’s best defender. Unfortunately for Group C’s other sides, there aren’t enough de Rossis to go around.

Spain saw both Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique make major errors. Ramos’s was absolved when Mario Balotelli Torres’d his second half chance, while Pique’s led to Italy’s only goal.

Sean St. Ledger and Richard Dunne didn’t provide the kind of aerial presence Trapattoni’s relying on. If they can’t win the type of balls that Mario Mandzuvic converted for Croatia’s third goal, they lose a lot of their value.

And for Croatia, Vedran Corluka and Gordon Schildenfeld were only saved by being matched against Ireland. As Croatia shifted gears over the last 15 minutes and ceased controlling the ball, Ireland continuously redirected crosses toward goal. Damien Duff turned into a viable target man. Combine that with Corluka being responsible for the first goal, and Croatia probably had the day’s worst central defense.

It won’t get better tomorrow. England’s without one of their two starters, Sweden’s got a question mark in left-central defense, Ukraine’s Dymtro Chygrynskiy’s fitness is a doubt until proven otherwise, and France’s biggest weakness is the Philippe Mexes-Adil Rami pair.

What’s going in with world soccer that all this tournament is being defined by problems in defense. Germany, the Netherlands, Russia – they all have question marks. Is this the brutal club season taking its toll on a demanding position? Or, coincidence?

Author’s note: Starting today, I’m going to break up the post-match review into two parts. The one-part thing was a bit too long.

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