Ireland became the first team to bow out of Euro 2012 on Thursday night, losing 4-0 to rampant defending champions Spain. The win included two goals from striker Fernando Torres.
Needing a victory after Sunday's draw with Italy, Spain eschewed their usual bank of creative midfielders and introduced forward Fernando Torres in place of Cesc Fabregas – the scorer of the only Spanish goal so far.
It was always going to be a mountainous task for the Irish to get a result against Spain, but the defensive solidity they showed in the qualifying stages – drilled into them by coach Giovanni Trappatoni – was again undone by an early goal.
A sweet vertical pass picked out David Silva in the center of the penalty area in the fourth minute. Though a good tackle from defender Richard Dunne prevented the Manchester City midfielder from shooting, the ball was pinched by an onrushing Torres, who made defender Stephen Ward look like a bystander as he ghosted to the right of the goal and blasted the ball emphatically into the roof of the net.
But though Spain created a hatful of chances, they failed to add to their lead in the first half – baffled by last-ditch tackles from Ireland's defenders and plenty of solid blocks from Ireland's creaking 36-year-old goalkeeper Shay Given.
The Irish were unable to keep Spain at bay much longer though. The second half began with a flurry of Spanish chances as they crowded the Irish team into their own penalty area through their intricate passes.
The lead was doubled in the 49th minute, when Given blocked an Andres Iniesta shot that shot out to Silva, who took a moment to pick his spot in front of three Irish defenders before simply passing it into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
Though Ireland continued to fight, and occasionally managed a ponderous move forward, much of the second half took place in the Irish half of the pitch.
Each time Ireland got the ball, it seemed as if Spain would get it back within three or four passes, and the third goal came from sloppy loss of concentration when Aiden McGeady was dispossessed near the half way line.
This time Silva sent an instant ball forward for Torres to pick up, and the striker, who missed a similar one-on-one chance against Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, calmly slotted the ball past Given from 18 yards.
By the time the fourth goal came in the 82nd minute, the Irish looked mentally exhausted. A short corner found substitute Cesc Fabregas, the only Spanish player in the Irish penalty area, who took a couple of touches to round the nearest defender, and slammed the ball in off the far-post from a tight angle. The fury of the shot was perhaps a reflection of the fact that he had been left on the bench despite scoring the equalizer against Italy on Sunday.
The result leaves Spain on top of Group C on goal difference. Like Croatia, their next opponents, they have four points. Ireland, meanwhile, only have their pride to play for against Italy.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill