How we’ll remember …
Croatia 1-1 Italy: As a missed opportunity, though we’ll have to wait three days before we know who missed it. Group C’s most likely scenarios have one of these teams spending next week on the Adriatic wondering if they could have done more in their second group game. Now Croatia faces Spain in a match where they’ll likely need points, while Italy gets an Ireland side against whom they don’t match up particularly well.
Spain 4-0 Ireland: As one of the more lopsided performances in the competition’s history. The 859 passes Spain completed (UEFA count) were a competition record, a total that hints the 4-0 final may flatter the Irish. If Spain were a little more ruthless – a little more willing to risk losing the ball once in a while – the final score could have been really embarrassing.
Team of the Day
G: Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia
LB: Ivan Strinic, Croatia
CB: Leonardo Bonucci, Italy
CB: Daniele de Rossi, Italy
RB: Alvaro Arbeloa, Spain
M: Xavi Hernandez, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Luka Modric, Croatia
LF: Andres Iniesta, Spain
RF: David Silva, Spain
F: Fernando Torres, Spain
Subs: Sergio Busquets, Spain; Claudio Marchisio, Italy; Antonio Cassano, Italy
Three lessons to take home
1. Ninety minutes, not 45 – Yesterday, Denmark didn’t show up until halftime in their 3-2 loss to Portugal. Had they played the full 90 as they did after half, the Danes would be in the quarterfinals.
If they watched that match, neither Italy nor Croatia learned anything from it. Italy dominated the first half but left their attacking impetus in the locker room, playing a second 45 minutes as if waiting for the final whistle to come.
Croatia were meek in the first, came out of halftime motivated, and put themselves in a situation to win at match’s end. Yes, a lot of Croatia’s improvement was owed to some halftime adjustments from Slaven Bilic, but the Croats’ individual first half performances, independent of the tactics, were left wanting.
Whichever set of players is on that Adriatic beach next week, reflecting in the small window they have before having to report back to their clubs, they’ll think back to their lost half. In the second match, why couldn’t we put in a full 90?
2. Speed kills – Ireland allowed seven goals in 10 qualifiers. It only took 180 European championship minutes to match that number.
They were completely at Spain’s mercy. If Spain want to score more, the would have. They went about their four with the urgency of a mail carrier. If a statistician told them the needed six to be absolutely certain all goal-based tiebreakers would go their way, they would have scored six.
Ireland just couldn’t match Spain’s speed, and without physical midfielders to provide a deterrent to going through the middle, Giovanni Trapattoni’s players were sitting ducks. As long as Spain executed – and executed with that unique technical proficiency that allows them to do everything at full speed – they were going to run through the Irish.
What was Trapattoni’s recourse? I suppose he could have played five at the back to close down space. He could have deployed a packed in 4-2-4-0. But he sure couldn’t get faster players.
Whereas Ireland might be able to frustrate a team like Italy, Spain just races by them.
3. Twenty-four team Euros are going to stink – Spain-Ireland was so lopsided because of a tournament favorite’s extreme stylistic advantage over one of the competition’s worst sides. It’s not the type of scenario you come across every Euro, and given the route Ireland took to Poland, it’s easy to make a case that they’re not one of UEFA’s top 16 teams.
In 2016, the European championships expand to 24 teams. That means two more weeks of games and up to eight more Ireland-level teams in the tournament.
If all those nations bring Ireland-level support to France, it will be a net gain for the competition. Else, the only things the extra teams will bring are more lopsided results.
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