Ireland national team

Preview: Spain take on Ireland at Yankee Stadium

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Republic of Ireland head coach Giovanni Trapattoni isn’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of the Spanish national team ahead of their friendly with Ireland at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday evening.

“Sure, they [Spain] will win, but it will be a good test for us.”

Those were the words uttered by Trapattoni in the buildup to the international friendly in New York City.

Okay… however the Italian is certain his side have learned from the 4-0 drubbing they received at the hands of the Spanish during the European Championships last summer in Gdansk, Poland.

Ireland suffered three straight defeats at Euro 2012 and bowed out in the group stages. But Trapattoni believes the inexperience of his squad in tournament play was to blame.

Now tonight’s showpiece friendly comes after Ireland are unbeaten in 2013, with three wins and three draws, and gives Trapattoni the chance to assess how far his Irish side have come since their defeat to the reigning World and European champions last summer.

After this disappointment, I couldn’t understand why the team played well until the Euros, but I know this now. At that moment, only people like Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne had experienced this, and there was some anxiety among the players. If we could repeat our Euros without this great weight on our shoulders and without one or two silly mistakes, I think we could repeat this game and not suffer against Spain. It was important that we started a new attitude, a new mentality. That was our job.

And the Irish have certainly turned over a new leaf since that disappointing exit last summer. However after being demoralized by Germany early on in World Cup qualifying, the Emerald Isle have bounced back but haven’t faced a side close to Spain’s quality since the 6-1 defeat to the Germans. This will be a huge challenge for Robbie Keane and co.

As for Spain, they will be finishing up their US tour with the game at Yankee Stadium. The reigning World Champs defeated Haiti 2-1 in Miami on Saturday, with Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas on the score sheet at Sun Life Stadium.

Fernando Torres, Jesus Navas and Juan Mata spearheaded Spain’s attack, with the EPL trio set for another run out at the home of the New York Yankees. Vincent Del Bosque will shuffle his side ahead of Spain’s Confederations Cup campaign starting in Brazil on Sunday against Uruguay. The game against Ireland will act as a worthwhile workout for Spain as they face three crucial World Cup qualifiers later this summer, against similar opposition in Finland, Belarus and Georgia.

On a different note, with the huge Irish population in New York City, I wonder if we will see a repeat of the incredible scenes in Gdansk last summer? ICYMI the video below shows the Irish fans in full voice, despite being 4-0 down to Spain. This display won their fans appreciation across the soccer world. Should be an electric atmosphere in NYC tonight, regardless of the scoreline.


Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Looking forward from Group C after Day 11

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source: Getty Images

Grading out Group C

The extent to which each team met expectations.

Spain, B – The final record is impressive, but they were very close to being out of the tournament. And we’re not talking about some kind of Germany versus Denmark, “if they somehow find a goal” kind of way. Croatia had a marvelous chance to go up 1-0, executed it well, and only a Iker Casillas save on an Ivan Rakitic header kept Spain from dropping to third place. They went on to get full points but only after Croatia changed gears. Still, they go through a difficult group in first place having accumulated a +5 goal difference. It’s hard to grade that too poorly.

Italy, B+ – It wasn’t pretty, but with Italy, is it ever? They go through the group undefeated, showing the ability to beat anybody over 90 minutes. They also portray the ability to lose to anybody, something which may keep them from the semifinals.

Croatia, C+ – They should have reasonably expected to get out of this group but couldn’t get a second goal against Italy. Croatia still played some great soccer, arguably better than many of the teams that will be in the final eight. However, as discussed yesterday, the best teams don’t always go through. The most deserving do.

Ireland, F – Even by their modest expectations, this was a horrible tournament. Some respected voices picked them to get out of group, and with good reason. But they never got out of the driveway.

Crystal Ball: What Needs to Happen Next Round

The quarterfinal match ups look good for Spain. Though they recently loss to England, Spain featured mostly second-choice players at Wembley. The potential style conflict represents the same bargain Spain always faces: We’ll dominate play and push forward; you try to counter; we’ll see who wins. It’s almost always the Spanish.

Spain could also face France or Ukraine, depending on how Tuesday’s results shake out, but the bargain will be the same. Perhaps France and Ukraine won’t sit back quite as much as England, but who knows. With any matchup, Spain’s possession wil be north of 63 percent, and their opponents’ best chances will come on set pieces and in transition.

For Italy, who are likely to face France, the quarterfinals may pose a significant match up problem. We saw what Croatia was able to do to the Italians in the second half when they used Luka Modric as an advanced playmaker. That created the same kind of flowing game Italy’s likely to see from the French. Having Daniele de Rossi in midfield to disrupt that flow could lead to improved results.

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

Taking a long term look, toward teams’ title hopes.

1 (–). Germany
2 (–). Spain
3 (-). Portugal
4 (+1). France
5 (-1). Italy
6 (-). England
7 (-). Czech Republic
8. (NR). Greece

Italy’s lack of creativity against Spain and Croatia is one thing, but against Ireland it becomes disturbing. They drop below France but stay above England, though Wayne Rooney’s return could push the Three Lions above them.

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Andres Iniesta, Spain
2. Mario Gómez, Germany
3. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
4. Luka Modric, Croatia
5. Mesut Ozil, Germany
6. Xavi Hernandez, Spain
7. Daniele de Rossi, Italy
8. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
9. Fabio Coentrão, Portugal
10. Sami Khedira, Germany

It almost seems unfair to put numbers besidesthese players. Better put: There are a number of players (not all listed here) who’ve had good tournaments, though nobody’s done enough to be considered a clear Player of the Tournament favorite.
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Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Team of the day, memories from Group C’s closing round


source: Getty Images

How we’ll remember …

Spain 1, Croatia 0 – As a typical match from Spain’s dominant period, but we’ll also remember it as a game that saw a deserving team seen out of Euro 2012, finishing third in what turned out to be the true Group of Death. If Croatia didn’t have to go for a win at the end, they probably hold out for a draw and finish group play undefeated. They still would have finished third in the group, but when you look at the rest of the tournament, you could make a case that one of the competition’s three of four best teams (on form) are out after three games.

Italy 2, Ireland 0 – As boring as we could have predicted. It wasn’t a bad game, and it certainly wasn’t as dull as the worst soccer games we’ve seen. It was just so predictably passive. “Oh, Italy and Ireland? Neither of these teams are going to do anything.” And they didn’t. Italy hogged possession and, aside from Antonio Cassano, offered no creativity. They just kicked the ball around Ireland’s defense, trying to open it up, and when that didn’t happen, they’d try something unlikely to come off because they hadn’t put the hard work into setting it up.

Team of the Day

Suffice to say, there weren’t a lot of stellar performances on Monday.

G: Iker Casillas, Spain
LB: Jordi Alba, Spain
CB: Gordon Schildenfeld, Croatia
CB: Sean St. Ledger, Ireland
RB: Ivan Strinić, Croatia
M: Sergio Busquets, Spain
M: Xabi Alonso, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
AM: Luka Modric, Croatia
AM: Andres Iniesta, Spain
F: Antonio Cassano, Italy
Subs: Kevin Doyle, Ireland, Daniele de Rossi, Italy, Andrea Barzagli, Italy

Three lessons to take home

1. Order of matches matter – If Croatia had gotten Italy’s order of games, they might be going through. At least, they would have finished the tournament without a loss (who knows how the tiebreakers would have gone), since they wouldn’t have had to open up at the end of today’s game in pursuit of a goal. Instead, they’d be beating Ireland.

Don’t fell bad for the Croats, though. They were one of the better teams in group stage, but they also controlled their own destiny. They weren’t subject to fate, the tides, Mike Seaver – whatever force you think controls the world. Going into their match with Italy, they knew without a win, they’s probably three from Spain. It’s a scenario they should have tried harder to avoid.

Italy, on the other hand, could draw their first two matches knowing a win over Ireland would probably put them through. Their goal against Spain gave them the edge in the three-way tiebreaker and the knowledge that they wouldn’t have to alter their game during group stage.

Croatia knew what they had to do and didn’t; however, the order of matches didn’t help them.

2. Getting it right doesn’t always mean getting it done – In our previews, we mentioned the delicate balance that needs to be struck when facing Spain. You need o account for their threat, but you have to maintain a threat of your own to keep them from completely laying siege.

Slaven Bilic got it right. We didn’t talk about the possibility of him dropping a striker, but that’s what he did. He switched from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-4-1-1, moving pushing Luka Modric up while going with three defensive-minded players and Ivan Rakitic in midfield.

Spain dominated possession but thanks to Modric, Croatia very nearly took the lead in the second half. The plan didn’t fully come off, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right plan.

The same can be said for Giovanni Trapattoni’s approach. Under pressure to change things up for Italy, Trap decided to start the team that got him to the tournament. And it worked, from open play at least. Ireland were on even footing with Italy before Shay Given misplayed an Antonio Cassano shot. The resulting corner led to Italy’s opening goal.

Like Bilic, Trapattoni got his tactics right, but whereas Croatia was up against a team you can’t completely solve, Trapattoni saw player error undo his planning.

3. Cagey soccer is not good soccer – Monday’s matches were painful. I wanted to turn mine off but decided that wasn’t a good career move.

Croatia and Spain were through at the start of the day, which may have led to some measured play from the Croats, who waited for Italy to break through. Of course, they did, temporarily went top of the group, leaving Croatia looking winning goal. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the ball off a Spanish team that had more incentive to prevent goals than score them.

It brings us back to one of this week’s themes: These three-game mini-tournaments are weird. They don’t feature enough games to truly distinguish the teams from each other, so you’re left with final days where complications can overwhelm drama.

Over the last two days, that wasn’t the case, as the group dynamics led to interesting scenarios. Today, however, everything felt stagnant.
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Offshore Drilling, Euro 2012: Italy 2, Ireland 0

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source: Getty Images

Man of the Match: That makes three straight games Antonio Cassano’s been one of Italy’s better players. Even if he hadn’t have scored the winning goal (heading home an Andrea Pirlo corner), he would have likely won the award, being at the center of everything Italy tried to go in their attacking third. Unfortunately, he still can’t go 90 minutes and was brought off at the hour mark, but during his time on the field, he may have been the only player on either team doing anything meaningful in attack.

NBC Sports: Italy does bare minimum in 2-0 win over Ireland

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The final score hints at a comfortable Italy win, and it was, but there really wasn’t much separating these teams. Italy converted a first half corner and repeated the trick near the end, but there were very few scoring chances from two teams that lacked imagination.
  • The teams had played a fairly even half hour before Italy broke though, but corner should have never happened. Italy gained possession ahead of the kick through a bad Glenn Whelan giveaway. Their pressure seemed to end when Cassano tried his luck from 26 yards only to see Shay Given bungle it out for a counter. This was moments after Given had come out on a through ball for Cassano, failed to get it, and left his goal wide open.
  • Given has said this will probably be his last international tournament. It wasn’t a convincing farewell. The veteran Aston Villa `keeper caused many of his team’s problems.
  • Late in the match, an athletic volley of an Alessandro Diamanti corner got substitute Mario Balotelli on the scoresheet. We’d speculated pre-match that benching him might mentally lose him for the tournament. Obviously, we were dead wrong (shocking, right?), but after the goal, Balotelli seemed to want to yell something over to Cesare Prandelli. Leonardo Bonucci ran up, covered his mouth, and tried to make it into a joyous occassion.
  • Italy switched back to 4-4-2 for this match, pushing Daniele De Rossi into midfield. They didn’t, however, move Giorgio Chiellini to the left. Instead, Palermo’s Federico Balzaretti started on the left. Chiellini stayed in the middle, with Bonucci dropped to make way for Andrea Barzagli. Ignacio Abate got the start on the right, with Christian Maggio benched.
  • Whether the changes worked, who knows. Ireland has such a unique, conservative approach, it’s hard to draw any conclusions.
  • Prandelli made one other change, of course: Antonio Di Natale started for Balotelli. He was a non-factor, and although Balotelli wasn’t good in the first two matches, he still offered more than Toto.
  • In a likely matchup against France on Sunday, Italy will probably be without Chiellini. Late, the Juventus defender had to be removed, signaling to the sideline that his left hamstring had popped after he stretched to play a ball. He might be out for the tournament.
  • Ireland was out of the tournament four days ago, but their ceremonial exit off came near full time when midfielder Keith Andrews sought and received a second yellow card. Kicking anything that lay in his way as he went to the tunnel, Andrews’ dismissal provided the appropriate closing image for the Irish’s tournament.
  • Ireland’s -8 goal difference ties a competition low, also set by Yugoslavia in 1984, Denmark in 2000, and Bulgaria in 2004.
  • Italy knows they’ll play on Sunday, but who is still up in the air. Even though France is favored to win Group D, all of France, England, and Ukraine could still take end up facing the Azzurri in Kiev.

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.

Changing formation, finding motivation, and Italy-Ireland: Monday’s Euro 2012 B-Side

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source: Getty Images

Italy has faced Ireland three times since former Azzurri coach Giovanni Trapattoni took over the Republic. They’ve failed to beat them, drawing twice during World Cup qualifying before losing in Belgium last June. Italy’s not worse off for it, qualifying for South Africa without having to go through a playoff, but the results are reason for worry ahead of the team’s Monday Group C finale.

Trapattoni spent 23 years building his coaching legend in Serie A, his nine league titles a testament to his ability to manage and manage against Italian players. Yes, a lot has changed in world soccer since he left Fiorentina in 2000, but if there’s one place that’s willfully holding on to the last decade, it’s Italy.

With the national team, Cesare Prandelli is trying to change that. Italy played more of a possession game through qualifiers, though that’s changed in this tournament. Through two rounds, Italy’s looked little different than the teams they’re used to sending to major championships.

Monday’s their chance to regain their qualifying form. If they can’t – it they approach this game the same way they approached Spain and Croatia – Trapattoni will have them right where he wants them.

Game starts at 2:45 p.m. If Italy wins, the only way they don’t go through is if Spain and Croatia play to a multi-goal draw. If Italy don’t win, their tournament’s over.

Here’s your playlist:

Side 2: Italy vs. Ireland

5. Re-change

Italy shifted to a 3-5-2 formation ahead of their opening match and stayed with it against Croatia. Now that defender Andrea Barzagli is back from injury, Cesare Prandelli’s ready to return to a back four. That will push Giorgio Chiellini to left back, Daniele de Rossi into midfield, and Italy back into a 4-4-2.

The most interesting implication of the switch will be the positioning of Thiago Motta. The former Brazil international is likely to be deployed at Prandelli’s most advanced midfielder – in a role you might call a trequartista if there was anything creative about Motta’s play. He may be positioned at the three-quarter point of the formation, but he’s unlikely to make anybody forget Alessandro Del Piero.

Against Ireland, it’s a plus just to have another player in an advanced position. It’s less certain whether the approach is viable beyond group stage.

6. Time you were gone

If Mario Balotelli loses his confidence, he loses everything. Given how Balotelli took his chances against Spain and Croatia, it seems everything’s gone. The man’s playing like he is first priority is not screwing up. He’s over-thinking, turning off the natural instincts we see when he plays for Manchester City, and predictably screwing up.

source:  Prandelli’s ready to move on, making the move most would have made a while ago: putting Antonio Di Natale in the starting XI. It’s a decision that may have significant consequences. It’s hard to imagine Balotelli being a viable contributor off the bench, part of the reason why Prandelli might have held off for so long. Moving Balotelli out of the starting XI might make Italy’s most talented player useless for the rest of the tournament.

7. Find a way to go on

Ireland was the first team eliminated from the tournament, and having giving up seven goals in two games (as many as they gave up throughout qualifying), the team may be done. It’s one thing to be eliminated. It’s another thing to be humiliated.

There’s a pride that keeps you from completely turning off (even if they try, most athletes find it’s easier to play than completely tune uot), but that’s different than trying to win. With no chance to advance, the Irish may not be up for a fight.

If they come to play, Ireland could get a result. The teams’ recent history attests to that, though it’s unclear how much trouble Prandelli will have with Ireland’s tactics. Under Marcello Lippi, Italy had problems because Trapattoni forced the Azzurri to take the initiative. Under Prandelli, Italy isn’t so reticent to do so.

Still, Italy lacks the speed or passing game to manage Ireland as easily as Spain did. And they don’t have the aerial threats Croatia used to win last Sunday.

They will have a ton of possession and 90 minutes to find a solution, but if Ireland comes to play, those 90 minutes could fly by.

8. Patience is our virtue

Italy may be more used to playing with the ball. That doesn’t mean they’re good at it. They easily won their qualifying group, posting a +18 goal difference, but it’s an accomplishment that’s looking less impressive by the minute. The second place team in the group, Estonia, was demolished in their playoff by Ireland.

Ireland’s best hope is to wait Italy out. Force Antonio Cassano to try to create something, and when that doesn’t work, press for advantages when Italy has to push for a win.

If Ireland can pull off an upset, they finish third in their group. That may not sound like much, but considering what little Ireland has had to hold on to throughout the tournament, besting Italy is more than a silver lining.


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.