The Republic of Ireland’s hope of progressing to the knockout stages of the Euros are hanging by a thread after a 3-1 defeat to Croatia. In the days earlier game, footballing powers Spain and Italy drew 1-1.
Holders Spain, playing with six midfielders and no strikers, struggled to get into gear against a vibrant and well-organized Italy side that will be disappointed that they did not win the game.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque shocked everyone with a lineup that had no strikers, as Fabregas played up front between David Silva and Andres Iniesta. Wonder what Spanish strikers Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente thought of that as they watched the game on the bench?
The lack of an attacking focal point seemed to hinder Spain more than Italy, and the Italians created the best opportunities in the first half and Motta saw his header well saved by Casillas.
In the second half it was more of the same, with the Spanish never really threatening Buffon in the Italy goal, while Italy tried to take advantage of a suspect Spanish defence.
Mario Balotelli had a great chance to put Italy ahead when he took advantage of a mistake by Ramos to be in one-on-one with Casillas. But the Man City striker waited to long to decide what he wanted to do and Ramos recovered to knock the ball out for a goal kick.
Soon after that Balotelli was replaced by Di Natale, and he proceeded to make Italian boss Cesare Prandelli look like a genius by scoring five minutes after he came on.
Piro slipped a fantastic ball between Pique and Ramos and Di Natale ran onto it and put the ball past Casillas.
Three minutes later we were all tied up as Fabregas capped a series of passes that started with Iniesta giving the ball to Silva, who then found Fabregas cutting toward the goal.
But that goal failed to spark the Spanish into life, as substitute Fernando Torres missed two great chances to win the game for Spain. Twice he was one-on-one with Buffon and both times he failed to get a shot on goal.
In the group’s other game, Croatia thrashed Ireland 3-1 as uncharacteristic defensive mistakes cost the Irish.
The game was only three minutes old when Wolfsburg striker Mandzukic headed Croatia ahead past an unsighted Irish goalkeeper Shay Given.
Ireland slowly recovered from conceding the early goal when Sean St Ledger headed home from an Aiden McGeady free kick.
But with the half winding down, Ireland conceded again. Under pressure Stephen Ward’s clearance went straight to Nikica Jelavic he beat Given in the 43rd minute.
Coaches all over the world tell their players not to concede a goal in the first and last five minutes of a half, and Ireland conceded two of them in the first half.
But shockingly, the Irish then conceded a third, only three minutes into the second half when Mandzukic fired towards the far corner of the net. The shot hit the post, but bounced off the lunging Given and into the back of the net.
Ireland should have had a penalty in the 62nd minute when talismanic captain Robbie Keane was brought down by Schildenfeld but somehow the Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers refused to award a penalty.