By Ria Novosti
Fernando Torres rediscovered his scoring touch in a Spain shirt in a 4-0 thrashing of Ireland that makes the Irish the first side to be knocked out of Euro 2012.
After struggling to escape Italy’s pressure in their tournament opener, Spain were able to unleash their passing game in a win that puts them on the brink of qualifying for the quarterfinals and leaves Giovanni Trappatoni’s Ireland team with no such hope.
Spain held the ball for minutes at a time, underlined by the fact that Xabi Alonso completed more passes in the first half than the entire Ireland team.
Torres hit the opener on four minutes, his first competitive goal for Spain since September 2010.
The Chelsea striker picked up the loose ball as his strike partner David Silva was felled by Sean St. Ledger and worked his way into space before unleashing a powerful strike past Shay Given.
Silva doubled Spain’s lead at the same point in the second half, picking up the ball on the rebound from a Torres shot, shifting left and right to find space and rolling the ball past three defenders and Given.
Torres grabbed his second after a perfectly-timed run behind the Spain defense on 70 minutes as he ran onto Silva’s pass.
In a sign of his growing confidence, Torres pulled off a stepover and paused slightly before slotting the ball past Given.
© RIA Novosti.
Cesc Fabregas replaced Torres on 74 minutes and made it four soon afterwards, darting wide to pick up the ball from Silva’s corner before jinking toward the touchline and lashing the ball past Given from a tight angle.
Spain dominated from the start and, after Torres gave Spain the lead early on, kept up the pressure with a string of shooting chances, but could not extend their lead.
Silva loosed a left-foot shot at Given within seconds of the restart, before Torres missed an excellent chance to claim a second when he lashed the ball wide from Alvaro Arbeloa’s knockdown.
Ireland registered a rare shot on nine minutes when Richard Dunne headed over the bar from a corner.
Center-back Gerard Pique forced a save from Given with a shot from the edge of the box seven minutes later.
On 25 minutes, Spain came close again, Silva heading over from very close range before Alonso’s effort from distance reminded the Irish of Spain’s long-range threat.
The Irish rallied and reduced Spain’s chances by closing down effectively in midfield, as well as some committed tackling from Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan.
They could not keep Spain at bay forever, and Alonso tried again with a long shot on 42 minutes before Andres Iniesta’s half-volley was tipped over the bar by Given in the last move of the first half.
With a 2-0 lead from Silva’s early goal in the second half, Spain kept up the pressure.
A one-handed reflex save from Given denied Arbeloa his first goal for Spain, and Busquets sent a curling shot wide on the hour mark.
There was a brief glimmer of hope for Ireland as Aiden McGeady’s dribbling created a promising attacking move, but he was closed down by Spain before Robbie Keane lost the ball.
Torres’ second goal and Spain’s third on 70 minutes seemed to deflate Ireland before Fabregas, on for Torres capped the thrashing with his second of Euro 2012.
The result sets up a potentially thrilling final day in Group C on Monday, when both games will be played simultaneously.
Italy must beat Ireland to stand a hope of qualifying, and if they do so, then the losing team in Spain’s game with Croatia will suffer an early exit from the competition.
A win for Italy and a draw between Spain and Croatia would mean that the two places in the quarterfinals are decided on goal difference.
Spain closed out the game by holding the ball as the Irish fans’ defiant singing drowned out the victorious Spanish cheers.
Ireland: Shay Given, Sean St. Ledger, Stephen Ward, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Glenn Whelan (Paul Green 80), Aiden McGeady, Keith Andrews, Damien Duff (James McClean 76), Robbie Keane, Simon Cox (Jon Walters 45).
Spain: Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta (Santi Cazorla 80), Xavi, Xabi Alonso (Javi Martinez 65), Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Fernando Torres (Cesc Fabregas 74).