Chelsea's Torres finally puts on his scoring boots, why Italy struggle to hold onto a lead and all the other action from Day Seven of Euro 2012
Italy Need To Kill Off Games
Whether it’s a fitness issue as some have suggested or simply a fervent belief in their ability to defend and hold on to a one goal lead, Italy have found themselves guilty of failing to kill off matches on two occasions. You might forgive a draw with Spain given the quality in that squad but failing to build on a commanding spell against Croatia has certainly placed them under more pressure than they will have liked. In truth things could have been a lot worse if Howard Webb had been up to snuff and spotted a clear penalty.
However before even a draw looked possible Italy had dominated the proceedings, Ballotelli in particular guilty of missing a string of chances you’d have fancied the wily Di Natale to have put away. The game should have been out of sight before the team started to cave in under the rising Croatian pressure.
It is weird to think of Italy as “underdogs” going into any football tournament but the decline in quality in Serie A, along with the much publicised continued problems with corruption in their game, meant that many had discounted the Azzurri’s chances of competing. Against Spain though they looked impressive and certainly had chances to emerge victorious from that fixture. All of a sudden there were whisperings that they might just be dark horses to win. On this showing though, they don’t have the ruthless streak of champions.
Republic of Ireland should pose no problems for them but if they don’t start finding a clinical edge they will be going home as soon as the knockout stages begin.
Pirlo Is Still The Don
Looking every bit his 33 years, the haggard midfield genius once again pulled the strings for Italy with a display that belied his years. Completely dominating the midfield he was untouchable and when he stood up to take that free kick most of us knew it was in the net, as did he, before it even was.
He’s been Italy’s most important player and it’s interesting to note that while so much focus has been on the maverick talent of Ballotelli – will he walk off if racially abused, will he curb his temperament, can he play his way back into Mancini’s heart??? – the fact that Italy have a genuine great in their ranks, probably playing his last international tournament, seems to have been overlooked.
Completely dominating the midfield he was untouchable and when he stood up to take that free kick most of us knew it was in the net, as did he, before it even was.
Having also set up the goal against Spain it’s no exaggeration to say that he is the lynchpin of the side and their most important player. What Italy desperately need is for him to stay fit and to now try and find players within their squad that are up to the task of doing justice to his imperious play.
Croatia Can Qualify
For me Spain haven’t looked anywhere near their World Champion best and even with a squad as good as they have Croatia are more than capable of getting something from Spain. Against Italy they looked a capable side in patches but they dominated the proceedings in the final thirty minutes and were unlucky not have emerged with more than just a point.
Like all Croatian teams they have the right blend of hard work, commitment and quality and so far they’ve looked like belonging in the company of their more illustrious colleagues. While it’s been Mandzukic who has been banging in the goals it has been Luka Modric, clearly trying to manufacture another big money move away from Tottenham, who has been pulling the strings. What better way to seal the deal than by upstaging the likes of Xavi and Iniesta?
A 2-2 draw or more on the other hand would see them through and a 1-1 draw would see the Italians leapfrog the Croatians if they won by two goals, provided it’s not 2-0. It’s the sort of thing that would have Stephen Hawking scratching his head if he were able to.
The problem is that given all the mathematical permutations depending on what Croatia get out of the game will make a big difference. Italy WILL beat Ireland, of that there can be little doubt. However a 0-0 draw with Spain, which would still be a great result for the Croatians, wouldn’t be enough because of head-to-head goal difference. A 2-2 draw or more on the other hand would see them through and a 1-1 draw would see the Italians leapfrog the Croatians if they won by two goals, provided it’s not 2-0. It’s the sort of thing that would have Stephen Hawking scratching his head if he were able to.
Regardless, Croatia will know they are within touching distance of a famous upset and you can back them to put a damn sight more fight into beating Spain than the Irish did.
Howard Webb Is Still A Joke
The first day of this diary wrongly concluded that there must be worse referees than Howard Webb at the event. Safely we can now put that theory to bed as pure bunkum after he once again managed to pervert the course of football with his ineptitude.
Having already missed a penalty this tournament he went on to drop an even bigger clanger in the Italy versus Croatia match, missing as nailed on a penalty as you’re likely to see this tournament in favour of the Croatians. Coming as it did after just nineteen minutes had it been awarded it would have changed the complexion of the game immensely, as any penalty decision does when the referee can actually be bothered to do his job properly.
These wrong decisions would probably be excusable if they weren’t so frequent, if the man himself wasn’t so odiously arrogant when it came to his ability and stature – just look at him on the pitch, strutting around like a bald rooster in black – or the constant fawning over him by the media constantly talking him up as the “best referee in England”. Every time he attends an international tournament he’s an embarrassment. Please keep him well away from the latter stages.
Fernando Torres Might Start Getting A Break From The Press
They’ve laid into him so badly if it was a boxing match it’d have been stopped some time ago but with his two goals against the hapless Republic of Ireland there’s a glimmer of a chance that the press, who love a good “bouncing back” story, might just start leaving Fernando Torres alone.
We listened aghast as the ITV commentators derided him for a few missed chances against Italy – “the player he was when he was at Liverpool would have buried that” – and accusing him of non-existent foul play (it wasn’t a “flying elbow”). Yet at no point did anyone offer the counter-balance that here was a player who was forced to play through injury for months by one manager, only to tumble into another knee related problem that also required surgery. For all the focus on his mindset following his £50 million move to Chelsea, it’s his body that has let him down.
After a vote of confidence from the Spanish public – a poll in Spanish sports rag Marca saw the populace back Torres to start in place of an advanced midfielder – he ran the simply awful Republic of Ireland ragged and weighed in with two very well taken goals. He missed a few too and his touch still looked off but in terms of his movement and pace he looked better than he has for some time.
What will please him the most is that finally, with those two goals, it seems that the endless barrage of abuse might just be abating. No promises of course. He’s one missed penalty away from further derision. That said, on this showing he will chip in with some more goals before the tournament is over and if he can chalk up a respectable tally people will talk about his rejuvenation as opposed to his persistent failings.
Republic of Ireland Are The Worst Team At The Tournament
This shouldn’t be news to anyone but there were some talking up Ireland after a decent run in qualifying. No doubt Giovanni Trappatoni has worked wonders to get them here but since they arrived they have looked every bit what they are – the dregs of the Premier League, comprised of the likes of Aston Villa, Wolves and Stoke players.
Thumped 4-0 by Spain they were never in the game and it was embarrassingly easy for the Spaniards who had taken the lead inside of four minutes. At times it looked like a training exercise, the Spanish simply going through the motions and the Irish players fulfilling their role as little more than cones to be dribbled around or passed between. The cones might well have had a better chance of
He is full of heart and commitment but is frighteningly low on quality, a thunderous sliding tackle being the prologue to a hideous sliced pass to no-one.scoring.
Their campaign is perhaps best epitomised by Keith Andrews, a player who was playing League 2 football just a little over four years ago. He is full of heart and commitment but is frighteningly low on quality, a thunderous sliding tackle being the prologue to a hideous sliced pass to no-one.
Their fans have been brilliant, singing their hearts out even as they crashed out the tournament. The players however have looked so out of their depth it’s hard to believe they even made it here in the first place.
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