14 June 2012

Spain 4-0 Ireland

Torres 4' 70'
Silva 49'
Fabregas 83'

It played out exactly as you expected it to play out.

Look, I don't mean this to be patronizing. But these two teams are in different classes, and we knew this before kickoff.

All the pre-match talk centered on Torres. Would his interminable profligacy cost the Spanish? Could Ireland keep it tight, frustrate Spain with 10 men behind the ball, and snatch an unlikely winner via route one or a set play? Nope.

Trapattoni's plan worked for the first three minutes. Ireland had the lone shot on target, from Keane, set-up by Cox after a quick free kick. Casillas saved it. But after four minutes, Spain had a lead they'd never looked like relinquishing, from that man Torres. Iniesta set up Silva at the top of the box, Dunne tackled but was slow to recover, and Torres raced on to the loose ball, easily sprinting past a static Ward, and rocketing a shot over Given's waving hands. While at Liverpool, Torres loved playing against Dunne, scoring four goals in five meetings against Dunne's club teams with Liverpool unbeaten in all five. He came quite close to replicating that era of good feelings today.

Spain couldn't extended their lead in the first half, despite near-constant possession, despite the hundreds of completed passes, despite eight other created chances, but weren't all that bothered. A 1-0 Spanish lead often feels like 3-0 leads for mere mortal sides. Sure, they've been punished before, as have Barcelona, who often play in a similar manner with the same players, but an equalizer still looks unlikely. Not that stats matter all that much when analyzing this match, but the passing chart explains an awful lot.

788 to 178 passes completed. That's more than quadruple Ireland's total. Out of 860 attempted, a 92% completion rate. I'm just going to let that soak in for a minute.

Spain's passes show up as a giant, all-consuming blue miasma in Ireland's half. Ireland's passes look to quickly transition from near-permanent defense to unlikely attack. Despite that overwhelming passing dominance, Ireland did out-pass the Spanish by one metric.

Hit it long, hope Robbie Keane could create something from less than nothing or, after half-time, Jon Walters could hold up play long enough to involve one, maybe even two runners. It obviously wasn't successful.

Ireland were able to keep the deficit at one through the first 45, as Given made seven saves while Ireland blocked three other shots and Spain put three good chances off target. But, as in the first half, Ireland sloppy conceded within four minutes of kickoff. Given made the first save, punching Iniesta's shot out of the goal mouth. Unfortunately, he punched it straight to David Silva near the penalty spot, who stayed calm, cleverly danced around three defenders, then slide-rule passed the ball into the net just out of Given's fingertip range. Game well and truly over.

Given wonderfully prevented a possible Spanish third five minutes later, somehow denying Xabi, and McGeady nearly created two unlikely openings soon after the hour – one self-inflicted by Arbeloa – but Spain defended well when Spain needed to defend well.

And then Torres struck again, one of those trademark goals which stopped being a trademark as soon as he left Liverpool. A scramble in midfield, another perfectly-weighted Silva throughball splitting the center-backs, Torres charging in on Given, stutter-stepping to see if Given would commit, and coolly finishing just above Given's rising arm. Maybe all he needs is to play in a red kit.

Del Bosque, rarely one for sentimentality, hauled Torres off soon after, denying him the chance at a hat-trick in order to get some of Spain's criminally-underused players on the pitch, bringing on Martinez, Fabregas, and Cazorla. Contributions from the latter two led to Spain's fourth. Cazorla's fierce shot won a corner, and, taken quickly with Irish minds already back in the dressing room, Fabregas picked up the short corner, sped around Paul Green, and hammered the shot in from no angle. Woof.

4-0 flatters Spain and doesn't flatter Spain. Yes, the margin of victory easily could have been more. But, and again no offense to Ireland – especially the brilliant, constantly singing fans – no other match will come so easily.

Spain face Croatia in the final group match. A 2-2 draw (or more) would see both teams qualify. A Spanish loss, however unlikely, would see them fail to advance if Italy beat Ireland. Still, Spain are odds-on favorites to come out of Group C. And then we'll see if Spain can overcome better defenses who will look to smother them as thoroughly as the Italians did in the first match.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about others' opinions (read: sanity), but I am loving these recaps. Please keep it up!

nate said...

Appreciate that very much. I know most (read: all) come here for the Liverpool stuff, but I enjoy the change of pace international tournaments bring. And this has been an outstanding tournament so far.