Italy, as always, were too tough of a nugget for Spain to beat, displaying a strong defense that was good enough to draw with the usual elegant passing of the Spanish midfield (1-1). The later match provided a bit more goals due to the quality differences between Croatia and Ireland, as Mario Mandzukic became the second brace scorer in Euro 2012.
Spain 1 Italy 1
Spain showed up in an interesting 4-6-0 formation, which was good for possession but not for chances. Antonio Di Natale came on for Mario Balotelli and immediately made Prandelli look like a genius, scoring after a nice counter attack build by Andre Pirlo. Cesc Fabregas finished in the box after a beautiful pass from David Silva three minutes later.
Italy kept all 90 minutes in their tight 5-3-2 formation which was mostly built on long balls and occasional counter attacks, testing Iker Casillas a few times. On the other side, Gianluigi Buffon was usually flawless, including the one on ones Fernando Torres, typically and as expected, messed up.
Croatia 3 Ireland 1
A match that puts a lot of pressure on Italy to beat Croatia in their next match, with Croatia simply too good and quick for a dogmatic Ireland team that have nothing to offer but physicality and long balls. Mario Mandzukic scored twice with his head as Shay Given proved to be too slow with his reactions between the posts.
Sean St Ledger did give the Irish a bit of hope after scoring off a set piece but there was hardly anything memorable and positive from the rest of Ireland’s match. They did get hard done by after referee Bjorn Kuipers missed a clear penalty on Robbie Keane, but in general, the old-school British style of Ireland seemed outdated and inferior to Croatia’s clever passing game.
Group C Table
1. Croatia, 3 Points (3-1)
2. Italy, 1 Point (1-1)
-. Spain, 1 Point (1-1)
4. Ireland, 0 Points (1-3)
1. Alan Dzagoev (Russia), Mario Mandžukić (Croatia) – 2 Goals
2. Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Dimitris Salpigidis (Greece), Roman Shirokov, Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark), Mario Gomez (Germany), Antonio Di Natale (Italy), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Nikica Jelavic (Croatia), Sean St Ledger (Ireland) – 1 Goal
What We’ve Learned
Spain – Maybe a bit arrogant. Everyone knew they could pass well with a group of midfielders that are probably the best in the world, together and alone. But Del Bosque has two problems to address after the opening draw against Italy – He needs a striker, maybe not Torres, and there’s fragility and a bit of a coordination problem in his back four.
Italy – Like Spain, didn’t surprise anyone with their 5-3-2, turning Daniele De Rossi into a centre back for all purposes. Will probably open up a bit in their next two matches, but don’t expect anything too fancy or flashy from them. A strong defense and hopefully a smart Andre Pirlo pass to their pressing strikers.
Croatia – Looked very impressive, a bit over the expectations of most, just like the Russians. Luka Modric was wonderful in the middle while Darijo Srna wrecked havoc on the Irish left flank, while Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic proved to be a huge problem for any defensive setup other teams might post against them.
Ireland – Like the Czech Republic, but without anything resembling a short passing game. Trapattoni knows he doesn’t have much to work with, and used the same long ball formula that worked so well in the qualifiers. Against well prepared teams, with superior quality in pretty much every position, it seems much harder.
France vs England – Something similar to Croatia and Ireland, just with a bit more quality on both sides. The problem for England is no clear method or anything systematic, which might turn ugly if the French bring their best to the beautiful stadium in Donetsk.
Ukraine vs Sweden – Just like Poland, the Ukraine have a lot of enthusiasm and fans backing them, but don’t expect to see anything orderly or too planned from their team. Sweden will be organized, physical and relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to provide the rest.