Singing in the Rain but it Can’t Disguise the Pain
Spain 4 Ireland 0
Torres (1-0); Silva (2-0); Torres (3-0); Fabregas (4-0)
Inevitable wasn’t it? Last night’s game between reigning World and European champions Spain and Ireland in Gdansk ended with shattering defeat for the Irish and the possible rebirth of Fernando Torres as the top class finisher he once was. Ireland go out of the competition while Spain look ahead to Croatia and potentially topping Group C. The match has been likened in the press to a bullfight with the Spanish matadors toying with the Irish before finally putting them out of their misery. I don’t think this is an accurate comparison – in a bullfight the animal sometimes lands a blow – last night Ireland never even came close.
Vincente Del Bosque changed his tactics from Spain’s opening game against Italy and started with a recognised striker in the form of Fernando Torres. The Irish fans must have felt that their defence could deal with the misfiring Chelsea forward such was their optimism as the game kicked off – this notion lasted all of 4 minutes. Andres Iniesta signalled his intention to put on a masterclass by cutting Ireland apart with a superb pass into the diminutive David Silva at the edge of the Irish penalty area. Richard Dunne’s sliding tackle initially looked good but as the ball broke the other Irish defenders looked at it as prehistoric man might look at an iPod – baffled and clueless as to what to do with it. Not so Torres, who with a burst of acceleration sized the loose ball and rounded a statuesque Stephen Ward to bear down on Shay Given in the Irish goal. Torres’ shot was relatively close to the Irish keeper but was struck with such venom that there was no chance of stopping it. It was as though El Nino had stored up 2 years of international frustrations and put them into that one swing of his right boot.
For the rest of the first half Spain continued to probe and dominate possession. Chances came and went with Given making one or two good saves. The talk at half-time on Irish TV was that it was only a one goal lead and anything could happen. We suspended our disbelief even though we all knew deep down that Spain were only in second gear and the Ireland were in deep trouble. Five minutes into the second half it was game over. Spain once again glided their way to the Irish penalty area. Irish defenders scrambled and slipped as they tried to contend with the movement and quick thinking of their Spanish tormentors. They could not. Given saved a well struck effort from the edge of the area but could only push it to the feet of David Silva standing about 12 yards from goal. Three Irish defenders lined up to block his effort – unfortunately they lined up one behind the other. Silva calmly surveyed his options and deftly passed the ball around them and the despairing dive of the Irish keeper into the corner of the net. The worst fears of Irish fans were being realised.
The fervent Irish support inside the stadium (outnumbering their Spanish counterparts at least 3 to 1 it seemed) roared their encouragement. They did everything they could to lift their team to try and contrive a way back into the game. The Irish players were willing but stifled by inept tactics and their own shortcomings none was to be had. Instead Torres capped a fine night by racing clear from halfway as McGeady and St Ledger got in each other’s way. As Torres bore down on Shay Given thoughts flashed back to the opening Spanish game when he had been presented with exactly the same sort of opportunity but horribly fluffed his lines. This, however, was the Torres of old. He lined the Irish keeper up and coolly curled a finish inside the right-hand post. A flawless finish and one you feel Torres badly needed.
That was to be his last action as he was replaced by Cesc Fabregas. It wasn’t the end of the nightmare for Ireland however, as the Barcelona man helped himself to Spain’s fourth goal of the night. He was the only player to react to a quickly taken corner – on his own in the box against at least 6 Irish defenders he had no right to even get a shot in. But Paul Green slipped, everyone else stood still and Fabregas struck hard and true. As the ball nestled in the back of the Irish net again the Irish fans raised their voices and sang the team all the way to the final whistle. And then they sang beyond it. They were a credit to themselves and the team they follow so passionately. There was no recrimination against such a heavy defeat (Ireland’s worst since 1971) just an appreciation of the player’s efforts and a thank you for getting this far. Remarkable. The hard questions will be asked at a later date – Germany await in a World Cup qualifying group fraught with danger. Spain look ahead to the last group game against Croatia and surely to the quarter finals of the Euro 2012. They will also look beyond – on the evidence of last night’s display, they will be very hard to beat.
“Even if it wasn’t the best time to bring him on but it will help him to understand what international football is about,” – Ireland Manager Giovanni Trapattoni on James McClean’s belated appearance as a substitute.
I thought with that the Irish fans and players showed us what the game is really about,” – Spain Manager Vincente Del Bosque doing his best to find positives for Ireland