The Italians, for once, got the result they needed with a 2-0 win over the sympathetic Irish team, who were simply outplayed and outmatched in every single match they had in Group C, while Spain hung in there with a tough Croatian team before scoring a late goal that put them on top of their group and into the quarterfinals.
Croatia 0 Spain 1
There were plenty of worried faced around the Italian camp of a ‘deal’ between Spain and Croatia, but the Croats needed a win more badly than Spain did. Spain did a good job in denying Luka Modric the amount of touches he’s used to and his team needs him to get, resulting in very few attacks from Bilic’s team.
Croatia spent most of the match defending and trying to interrupt the Spanish passing game, which worked pretty well until time became too much of a factor. With Italy leading in Poznan, Croatia had to open up their formation a bit, which did get them a few chances through quick counter attacking, but there were never enough players to pose a real and constant threat.
Eventually, the slick Spanish passing and the dwindling Croatian defense set up Andres Iniesta and Jesus Navas alone in the penalty box, with Navas preventing us from watching the first 0-0 of the tournament, and give Spain the top spot as they head into the quarterfinals.
Italy 2 Ireland 0
Italy, for once, did what they were supposed to, without getting screwed over in a different match. Not a great game from Prandelli’s players, but a good enough stretch in the second half, with quicker passing and more touches for Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano resulted in a corner and Cassano scoring the goal that had Italy on top of the group for most of the night.
Ireland did try and thwart the Azzurri celebrations, but with the limited tools they had, except for a few counter attacks that were semi-dangerous, there wasn’t much to remember. Mario Balotelli actually gave 15 very focused minutes, resulting in a very impressive finish off another corner, which didn’t seem to make the talented but troubled striker any happier about coming off the bench.
Final Group C Table
1. Spain, 7 Points (6-1)
2. Italy, 5 Points (4-2)
3. Croatia, 4 Points (4-3)
4. Ireland, 0 Points (1-9)
1. Alan Dzagoev (Russia), Mario Gomez (Germany), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia) – 3 Goals
2. Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine), Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic), Nicklas Bendtner (Denmark), Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres (Spain), Petr Jiracek (Czech Republic), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 2 Goals
3. Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Dimitris Salpigidis (Greece), Roman Shirokov, Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Antonio Di Natale (Italy), Nikica Jelavic (Croatia), Sean St Ledger (Ireland), Joleon Lescott (England), Samir Nasri (France), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Theofanis Gekas (Greece), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Poland), Pepe, Helder Postiga, Silvestre Varela (Portugal), Robin van Persie (Netherlands), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Davis Silva (Spain), Jeremy Menez, Yohan Cabaye (France), Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck (England), Olof Mellberg (Sweden), Giorgos Karagounis (Greece), Rafael Van der Vaart (Netherlands), Lukas Podolski, Lars Bender (Germany), Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli (Italy), Jesus Navas (Spain) – 1 Goal
What We’ve Learned
Croatia – Showed teams another way of limiting Spain’s style. Their tall and strong defense was good enough to handle Fernando Torres while an ultra defensive midfield did pretty well in stopping or slowing down the Spanish passing. But it comes at the price of pretty much giving up any chance of attacking. The moment Croatia started taking more chances, Spain became a lot more dangerous.
Spain – Not a great match, while Del Bosque got what he wished for – Validation for his no striker lineup, getting the goal with Jesus Navas and Cesc Fabregas on the pitch, taking advantage of the space Croatia’s daring created. Not too much of an impressive group stage from Spain, but it was more proof of just how good they are and how almost every match is completely depending on their form, not the opponents.
Italy – Determination and a bit more confidence from a less than impressive win over the weakest team in the tournament. Andrea Pirlo is what drives this team, and he didn’t have too many good minutes, but Prandelli did enjoy the Di Natale – Cassano partnership, which showed more mobility and creativity than having Mario Balotelli on the pitch.
Ireland – One of those teams that don’t really fit in a tournament of this caliber and quality, but fought all the way through with what little ammunition they had.Their fans were probably the best and most memorable thing in their rare visit to a Euro.
Sweden vs France – Zlatan Ibarhimovic and Sweden don’t have anything more to look for in the tournament, but they can still mess it up for France. The question is how motivated are Hamren’s players, and even if they have the needed desire, do they have what it takes against a better French side?
England vs Ukraine – England will go into the Ukraine match feeling very confident after their comeback win against Sweden, but a confident England is the one that usually messes up when they shouldn’t. Ukraine will try and ride the wave of home support yet another time against a team that’s probably better than them.