Spain Vs. Ireland, 2012 European Championship: Why Does This Game Exist?

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 13: In this handout image provided by UEFA, Xabi Alonso of Spain talks to the media during a UEFA EURO 2012 press conference at the Municipal Stadium on June 13, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

Spain are going to play Ireland on Thursday. Why? What have we done to deserve this?

When writing a preview of a match that appears to be magnificently lopsided on paper, one generally attempts to find something good to say about the clear underdog. In an attempt to avoid looking like a complete and utter imbecile, the previewer often attempts to present scenarios in which the inferior team could potentially win, in case the unthinkable happens.

This seems like a bit of a pointless exercise for a match between Spain and Ireland, no?

Spain are not playing their best football at the moment -- they actually got outplayed for half of their opener against Italy -- but Ireland are playing truly woeful football. In both their last friendly match before Euro 2012 kicked off and their first group stage match against Croatia, Ireland looked bad. Spain are a lot better than Croatia.

There's no reason that Ireland should avoid defeat against Spain. That's not to say that they're incapable of avoiding defeat, though. It's not like there are any bad teams at the European Championships, ever. This isn't Hoosiers, or The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Upsets of that magnitude can't happen in the Euros because teams that small don't get to the Euros.

And don't you say "What about Greece in 2004?" Seriously, more than half of that Greece squad played in the UEFA F--king Champions League* for their club teams in the 2003-04 season. Yes, Greece were an underdog playing a more talented Portugal team in Portugal, but they had a roster full of very accomplished high-level professionals. It's really not the same thing.

*Little-known fact! The official name of the UEFA Champions League is the "UEFA F--king Champions League."

OK, tangent over. Point is, there's no such thing as a super duper monster upset in the European Championships. But dang, if Ireland beats Spain on Thursday, that's about as close to a super duper monster upset as the world is ever going to see in this competition. Spain are much bigger than the 2004 Portugal team. They've won the last two major international titles. Ireland are much smaller than that Greece team. None of their players played in the Champions League last season. Five of their players have ever played in that competition.

If Ireland pulls off an upset, it won't be because of some piece of tactical genius. Giovanni Trappattoni is going to deploy his team in a very rigid 4-4-2 formation that will regularly morph into a 4-4-2-0 with 11 men behind the ball. If the individual players play well and Ireland keeps their shape well, it's going to be hard for Spain to score.

Spain will score, though. Even if Vicente del Bosque opts for a 4-6-0 again -- please, dear god, no, make it stop -- something will probably go in. A set piece. A Xabi Alonso lob from 80 yards. Fernando Torres with a lucky goal he knows nothing about off his rear end after he comes off the bench. Something really awesome from Jesus Navas. Come on, they're Spain. At some point, the ball is going to go into the net.

Ireland aren't going to get the ball into the net on anything but a set piece. They have some large people and some decent dead-ball strikers, while Sergio Ramos is pretty bad at marking on set pieces, so it seems very plausible that Ireland could score in this manner. However, this requires them to create corner kicks or free kicks in the general vicinity of their penalty area, which they're not going to do too much of.

Wait ... that thing I said was pointless ... I'm doing it! I'm trying to find ways that Ireland might beat Spain. Oh wow. Where did my life go wrong?

Projected Spain Lineup (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Alvaro Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi; Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva

Projected Ireland Lineup (4-4-2): Shay Given; Stephen Ward, Sean St. Ledger, Richard Dunne, John O'Shea; Aiden McGeady, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Damien Duff; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle

football formations

Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Can you believe this idiot wasted 700 words on this game? 3-0 Spain.

Game Date/Time: Thursday, June 14th, 2:45 p.m. ET, 9:45 p.m. local

Venue: PGE Arena, Gdansk, Poland

TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), ITV 1 (U.K.), TSN (Canada)

Online: ESPN3

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