BEIRUT: Spain and Croatia sit locked at the top of Group C on four points after the world and European champions beat Ireland 4-0 while the Croats pulled off a 1-1 draw with Italy.
An early Fernando Torres strike sent Spain off on their way to a comfortable win that saw the Iberians lay siege to the Ireland goal for most of the game.
David Silva and Torres added second half strikes before Cesc Fabregas slapped in a late goal to make it a rout.
The Irish weren’t overawed by their illustrious opponents but they were overmatched. The Spaniards pressed Ireland into countless mistakes in their half as well as knitting together numerous passages of intricate play.
Torres leapt on a loose ball in the penalty area, after Richard Dunne had made a superb challenge, inside the first five minutes. The Chelsea striker pushed the ball passed Stephen Ward and fired a bullet strike past a helpless Shay Given into the roof of the net.
David Silva failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities while Given saved shots from Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique, who headed a clear chance wide in the 26th.
Ireland simply had no outlets, making Spain’s strangulating pressure all the more frustrating. Robbie Keane and Stephen Cox rarely got on the ball and on the rare occasion they did receive a clean pass, the pair were set upon by a gang of Spanish defenders.
The Irish did well to hold Spain to just a 1-0 lead at halftime but just three minutes after the restart David Silva gave Spain a two-goal cushion with a neat close range finish.
Iniesta’s drive was parried by Given straight to the feet of Silva who twisted and turned, seemingly taking an age to make a decision before cooly slotting the ball round three Irish defenders with Given unsighted.
Spain continued to be the dominant side, eventually adding a third through Torres who ran onto a Silva throughball and beating Given one-on-one.
All that was left was for Fabregas to take advantage of a sleepy defense and wallop in a late goal from a tight angle.
Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic struck his third goal of Euro 2012 to earn a 1-1 draw against Italy who let their opponents off the hook after taking the lead in the Group C match on Thursday.
Playmaker Andrea Pirlo put Italy ahead with a majestic free kick six minutes before the break, rewarding their early dominance after they carved out a hatful of chances.
It was the first European Championship goal scored direct from a free kick since 2004.
Slaven Bilic’s Croatia team have four points from two games in Group C while Italy have two points. But Croatia could find themselves in trouble after their fans repeatedly threw flares onto the field, at one point leaving a pall of smoke hanging over the penalty area.
Bilic said: “Italy showed once again they’re an exceptional team but I have to congratulate my team for showing willpower and character to fight back in the second half.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli added: “We’re up for it, the team is alive and we will fight right to the end. We had good chances in the first half, we could have done better. We lacked a bit of grit and energy.”
Italy, with Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield and Mario Balotelli lively in attack, looked dangerous every time they came forward in the first half.
Balotelli fired wide after three minutes with a snap shot and should have done better when Antonio Cassano found him free on the edge of the area, but he dallied and his shot was saved by Stipe Pletikosa.
Shortly afterward, the eccentric forward had another effort saved by the busy Croatia goalkeeper.
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio forced a brilliant double save by Pletikosa who dived at his feet to block the first effort and did the same from the rebound.
Fittingly, Pirlo broke the deadlock when he curled a 25-meter free kick inside the near post, with Pletikosa getting a hand to it but failing to keep it out.
Croatia levelled in the 72nd minute when Ivan Strinic’s cross from the left picked out the unmarked Mandzukic who had time to bring the ball down and score off the inside of the near post.
Italy tired and in the end were grateful to hang on for a point despite a refreshingly positive approach to the tournament. – With Reuters