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Surprise, surprise. Ireland's out of the running to reach the knockout rounds of Euro 2012 after a thumping defeat against Spain which comes as no shock at all. Their stuffing against Croatia meant that they needed a result here, and no reasonable person would have given them much chance.
The pretense that this match was a competition ended in the fourth minute, when Fernando Torres dispossessed Richard Dunne in his own penalty area, rounded Stephen Ward and virtually decapitated Shay Given with a ferocious shot to make it 1-0. And although that scoreline held through halftime, that was more because Spain couldn't really be bothered trying to score more goals than because Ireland was playing well.
Spain decided to put the game to bed after the interval, with David Silva cleaning things up following Given's poor clearance from an Andrés Iniesta shot, and Torres claimed his brace when Ireland tried to push forward in a desperate, fruitless search for a goal. Substitute Cesc Fabregas put the icing on Spain's cake with a thumping drive from a highly acute angle, and Spain ended up winning 4-0.
Spain aren't quite through to the knockout rounds yet, but after the disappointment of their opening 1-1 draw against Italy, they're in very good position to emerge as leaders of Group C after the next round of fixtures.
And now this is turning into a farce. Santi Cazorla forces Shay Given into a wonderful flying save -- he's been pretty good in this match, despite conceding four times -- but Ireland completely forget to defend the subsequent corner, and it's now 4-0.
How anyone scores from a set piece when they have one player in the box is something of a mystery, but Cesc Fabregas (who came in for Fernando Torres after the Chelsea man got his brace) detached himself from his marker and made a wonderful near-post run before cracking an unbelievable shot off the far post and in for his second goal of the tournament.
This is, I suppose, a good reminder that Spain are playing against Ireland, and that Ireland are pretty terrible. They're not demolishing them because Torres gave them a spearhead or anything; they're winning because they're so much better it's not even fair. Tactics and personnel decisions don't really matter at this point.
How about Spain, then? Over the past few minutes they've let Ireland have the ball more, but when green shirts flood forward, that opens up space in behind, and the defending champions definitely have the quality to take full advantage of said space.
A simple through ball from David Silva caught the Ireland defense completely square and sent Fernando Torres away. Torres looked around to make sure the linesman wasn't sneakily waving a flag or anything (his previous run having been cut short by a dubious offside call) before setting himself up for a right-footed shot and slotting calmly past a flailing Shay Given, despite some heavy pressure by Richard Dunne. That makes it 3-0, and Ireland are completely and utterly done.
Granted, they were completely and utterly done before that goal, but that's picking nits. They're extra completely and utterly done? Truth be told, the only point of the goal was to boost Torres' confidence, but hey, they need him happy.
There's Spain goal number two, which makes this even more uncomfortable. They have, of course, been in the ascendancy since the match kicked off, but it's taken them far too long to make the match completely secure. But anyway, enough complaining - they've done it now.
Shay Given, in the Ireland goal, might have done better with the initial shot. He punched Andres Iniesta's right-footed effort away, but his aim wasn't the best, because the ball landed at David Silva's feet at the penalty spot. The Manchester City midfielder jinked and juked and looked tempted to lay the ball off for an onrushing Xavi Hernandez, but instead decided to shoot. His soft effort was picture-perfect, nutmegging two Ireland defenders and beating Given before nestling gently into the bottom corner.
So yeah, that's 2-0. It could be seven or eight if Spain decided to go full-speed, but there's no reason for them to at this point. Ireland are out as it stands. And it will almost certainly stand.
Here is an approximate summary of what's happened so far this game.
Rest of the minutes in: Uh-oh. Spain are now defending a 1-0 lead. We know what that means: Pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass pass. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Ok, maybe that's a little bit unfair. There were some shots and such. Sometimes (but not very often) Ireland have the ball. But Spain have really made a mess of things at times, overcomplicating things in the final third. They should be two or three up by now, and thanks to their complete failure to make their utter, utter dominance count, they're not. Could Ireland snatch this? Probably not, no, but this is probably going to be far closer than it has any right to be.
Well well well. Spain had real issues breaking Italy down in the first leg, primarily thanks to their refusal to field a genuine centre forward - they played Cesc Fabregas as a false nine rather than using one of Fernando Llorente or Fernando Torres. Vicente del Bosque did not make the same mistake against Ireland, although starting Torres gave plenty of ammunition for 'false nine' jokes.
It took all of three minutes for Torres to make his mark, though. David Silva got tangled up after being played clean through, and it looked as though Richard Dunne was going to be able to clear the danger. But Torres closed the Aston Villa defender down, dispossessed him, rounded Stephen Ward and then blasted an unstoppable shot past Shay Given to give Spain a 1-0 lead. This was already going to be tough for Ireland, and now they have an absolute mountain to climb.
Spain and Ireland have both made one change for their Euro 2012 clash, with both teams deciding to things a bit differently up top. Vicente del Bosque has dropped his goal-scorer Cesc Fabregas for a more traditional center forward in Fernando Torres, while Ireland have made a like for like switch in dropping Kevin Doyle for Simon Cox.
Simon Cox is going to be a glorified midfield destroyer anyway and won't ever see his own penalty box. Good luck, Simon Cox! Kickoff is at 3 p.m. ET from Gdansk, Poland. You can catch the game on ESPN in the United States.
So Spain are either the best or second best team at Euro 2012 and Ireland are either the worst or second worst team in the tournament. Cracking match we've got on tap, isn't it?
Lines: Spain, -1.5 (-105). Ireland, +1.5 (-115).
Odds: Spain, -450. Ireland, +1100. Draw, +500.
Over/Under: Over 2.5, -130. Under 2.5, +110.
The probability of Spain winning is equal to that of Kanye West posting a nude photo of Kim Kardashian on his Twitter. The probability of Spain winning by at least two goals is equal to that of Kanye denying that it is a picture he took or posted and nobody caring whether it is real or not anyways because the story is more fun when it is real picture so let's believe that!
The question on the over/under is whether you believe more in Spain's predictability to Ireland's terribleness. Spain excel at knocking the ball around without going towards goal so asking for three goals from them is asking for a lot, but Ireland might just be bad enough to give it to them.