A tourist visit may be slightly harsh, but in reality, it was not much more than that. What I am referring to of course is Ireland’s visit to this summer’s European Championship.
They arrived, they saw the quality of competition and quite frankly, they did not compete. Their fate was decided against Spain last night, but the coffin was all but nailed after the 3-1 defeat to Croatia, in the first game of Group C. In a group which included Spain and Italy, the Croatian game was one they could not afford to lose.
Having finished runners up in their qualifying group ahead of this tournament, Ireland faced a play-off game against Estonia. A comfortable 5-1 victory, over two legs, cemented their place in this years European Championship. The first major tournament they have qualified for since the 2002 World Cup.
Bust Up: Keane walked out on Irish squad in 2002 World Cup (source:mail)
Back then the team was under the management of Mick McCarthy. His famous fall out with Roy Keane triggered the captain to walk out on the squad, before the tournament had even started. Despite a build up surrounded by controversy and split opinion, the Irish progressed past the group stages in Japan. After consecutive draws against Cameroon and Germany, a win over Saudi Arabia secured their position in the knockout stages.
Their next opponents however, were Spain. In a game forced to extra time by a last minute Robbie Keane penalty, the Irish eventually lost on penalties. They may have been sent home early, but they had been sent with their heads held high. After a dismal build up, the general opinion was that the Irish had succeeded in Japan.
Their future looked bright, with or without troubled captain Roy Keane. But not all went to plan. McCarthy was sacked after a poor start to the Euro 2004 qualification. His replacement, Brian Kerr, failed to lead the team to a major tournament, and so to his predecessor, Steve Staunton, who was sacked in late 2007.
February 2008 saw the beginning of the Trapattoni era. Giovanni Trapattoni, a fresh faced sixty-nine year old, with a wealth of experience both at club and international level. Ireland went through all ten of their 2010 World Cup qualifying games unbeaten, and with four wins. Qualification for another World Cup seemed a reality. Until one controversial night in Paris, when the left hand of Thierry Henry cost them. The French striker’s handed-goal went unnoticed by the match referee, and France progressed to the World Cup. Day light robbery for Ireland, the nation that had for so long waited for another major tournament.
However, with a win against Estonia last November, the wait was over and they were heading to Ukraine. Their preparation for the tournament was perfectly quiet, just how the traditional Trapotoni wanted it. With little experience and even less expectation, the spot light was far away from the Irish camp. All involved were well aware of the task that faced them, and rightly so. They were grouped with current World and European champions, Spain, and four times World Cup winners Italy. As well as a Croatian team who have one of the Premier League’s most in-form strikers, in Nikita Jelavic.
Behind all of this, though, the Irish were quietly confident. They had not had the experience to know any better. A thrashing from Croatia on June 10 changed that somewhat. Luka Modric taunted the Irish midfield without seeming to break sweat. Shay Given looked uncomfortable in goal and the tournament looked to be one too many for veterans Robbie Keane and David Dunne. Irish Luck was not enough to save them in Poznan, nor would it be against Spain.
After a four-day break and much deliberating over what team Trapattoni would employ, Ireland set out for mission impossible. Unfortunately in this case, the mission impossible title could not have been more accurate.
It took just four minutes for Fernando Torres to make it 1-0 last night. Spain opted to play without a striker in their first
Take That: Fernando Torres looked back to his best against Ireland (source:ESPN)
game against Italy, instead using Cesc Fabregas as the highest playing midfielder. Maybe it was manager Del Bosque’s way of giving their opposition a chance. However, he restored a front man to the line up and Torres immediately repaid him.
The writing was rapidly becoming carved on the wall.
Keith Andrews, 31, said after the game that his team were ‘chasing shadows for most of the time.’ The Irish midfielder spoke with devastation, but also with the sense that his team could not have done more. They were simply beaten by a much better team.
The second Spanish goal came immediately after the break. An unconvincing save from Shay Given pushed the ball into the feet of David Silva. The Manchester City magician took a few neat touches before passing it by three helpless Ireland defenders. One on the floor, one who had lost all sense of positioning, and the other who helplessly watched the ball travel through his legs.
From then on Ireland’s half chances were few and far between. Keane worked tirelessly up front to win possession, when he did so he was miles away from his team mates still recovering from the recent Spanish attack. Fernando Torres got his second of the night on the 70th minute, suggesting he is hitting form at a good time for his country. He latched on to a through ball before composing himself and slotting the ball to the right of Shay Given.
The final nail was hammered, quite literally, by Cesc Fabregas with less than ten minutes remaining. The midfielder, who had been dropped to the bench for this game, replaced Torres on the 80 minute mark. Within minutes he picked up a short corner before firing a pin-point strike into the side of the Irish net. 4-0 and a miserably night for Ireland in Gdansk.
They do still play Italy on June 18 where they can still influence the events of the group. The Irish fans have been excellent in Poland throughout the championships so far. And will no doubt continue to raise the spirits of a well beaten squad. But if they were hoping
Spirit: The Irish support has been superb throughout the competition (source:mirror)
for an easier game, they will be bitterly disappointed. With Croatia drawing to the Italians, nothing is yet decided at the top end of Group D. One thing that is decided, though, is that the Irish will exit the tournament after they play Italy. And unless something very strange occurs in Poznan next week, they will be bottom without a point.
SPAIN VS IRELAND STATS
ATTEMPTS: 27 / 6
ON TARGET: 15 / 2
CORNERS: 9 / 2
POSSESSION: 76% / 24%
PASSING SUCCESS %: 92 / 70
TOTAL PASSES: 860 / 254 – Spain’s 860 passes sets a record for the most passes in a European Championships match.
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