Man of the Match: When the lineups came out, we flippantly said Fernando Torres could score two goals without being very good, such were the advantages Spain over Ireland. Torres did get a pair, but rather then blindly stumble onto his goals, he was quite good. Opportunism led to his first, taking the ball off Richard Dunne in the fourth minute to create an easy chance. In the second half, David Silva put him in from 30 yards out, and while it was not a difficult finish, it was a confidence-booster – the type of chance we’ve seen Torres struggle to finish throughout his prolonged swoon.
NBC Sports: Torres scores 2 as Spain eliminates Ireland
Packaged for takeaway:
- There isn’t much to say about a match that was so completely dominated from start to finish. In our preview, we speculated this could be the most lopsided match of the tournament, and unfortunately, we were right. Ireland can be as disciplined as they want at the back, but if they don’t have the quickness to react to Spain’s passes, they’re nothing more than highly evolved pylons.
- Spain had 66 percent of the game’s possession (per UEFA), outshot the Irish 26 to 6, and set a tournament record with 859 passes.
- Giovanni Trapattoni made one change from Monday, bringing Simon Cox in for Kevin Doyle. Doyle was Irelands best player on Monday, you say? No matter.
- There was some speculation that this meant playing 4-5-1, but the system was largely unchanged, and Cox was ineffective. Jon Walters, coming on at half time, provided some energy that would have helped at the get go.
- Beyond his two goals, Torres’s value was seen in the effectiveness of the front three worked. With somebody playing at a level higher than Andres Iniesta and David Silva, the area behind the forward as freed up for not only those wide attackers but also Xavi Hernández, who was more active tonight than he was against Italy. Silva had a goal and two assists, while Iniesta was involved in building all three goals.
- Spain didn’t wait to see if Ireland would change how they played. They pushed everybody forward from the start. Jordi Alba attacked, even making some runs into the box (which he didn’t do against Italy). Gerard Pique had some trademark incursions into the attacking third. Even Alvaro Arbeloa was dangerous, putting two good shots on Shay Given. Every Spaniard attacked when they could, with Ireland posing no threat of retaliation.
- Given had a very bad night. The first goal went a foot over his head into net. The second goal was more excusable, but it was not a well struck ball and came after Given’s poor punch on an Iniesta shot. The fourth goal (from Cesc Fabregas) was shot from a very sharp angle to the right of goal, an angle from which a `keeper should never concede.
- Spain carried so many advantages into this game, it’s useless to infer anything from the result. There’s no team in this tournament that will make life as easy as the Irish did. Between their two-man midfield, lack of foot speed, absence of physical strength in middle of the park, propensity to sit and wait, and weak threat on the counter, Ireland was tailor-made for Spain. Nothing the holders did today makes them a better (or worse) bet to win the tournament.
- Ireland is eliminated. They’ll be playing for pride against Italy. For an Azzurri side that seems to be better on the counter (and has only scored one open play goal this tournament), Ireland will be a significant obstacle.
- For Spain, the lopsided result means a draw with Croatia is likely to give them the group, which they’ll claim outright with a win.
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.
A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.
[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]
Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.
Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.
Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.
The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.
Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.
Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.
[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]
On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.
They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.
Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.
Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.
Below is Friday’s schedule in full.
Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.
2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.
“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”
[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]
Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.
And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:
“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.
“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”
Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.
That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.
There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.
[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]
Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.
The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.
“Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”
Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”
That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni.
Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.
“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”