18 June 2012

SPAIN 1 (Navas 88)

On the hour mark Rakitic wasted a glorious chance on the counter. Modric checked inside a defender before curling an outrageous pass with the outside of his right foot to the back post, Rakitic headed straight at Casillas, Busquets tried to knock the ball out for a corner but Rakitic, who was still horizontal, headed goalwards and this time his shot was hacked clear. Mandzukic picked out Perisic with a terrific pass but having controlled the ball he again shot straight at Casillas. Fabregas chipped a ball over the top of the Croatia defence and as they appealed for offside and/or handball (it was neither) Navas tapped in Iniesta's centre.

Attendance : 39,076
Assist : Iniesta

ITALY 2 (Cassano 35, Balotelli 90)

Cassano drew Given off his line with a brilliant pass down the right flank to Di Natale, Given dived at Di Natale's feet and, in keeping with the spirit of the competition (so far at least) Di Natale resisted the temptation to go down and vaulted over his challenge but was forced to the goal-line, he tried to replicate his absolutely insane goal against Catania ( but St Ledger cleared. Cassano met a Pirlo corner with a back header which bounced over the line and was kicked against the underside of the crossbar by the Duffer. No goal-line technology needed here.

Cassano almost scored a second after Balzaretti, outstanding on the left, pulled back a centre but Dunne hacked cleared. Cassano made way for Diamanti soon after. The ref should have called a penalty for a John O'Shea handball. Andrews was shown a soft second yellow card for hassling Pirlo. He did a Nalbandian as he left but an official wasn't standing near the board he kicked. Diamanti swung in a corner from the left and with his back to goal Balotelli, on for the disappointing Di Natale, volleyed into the net. Brilliant goal. As he got to his feet he started shouting something, possibly towards Prandelli, but Bonucci ran upto him and literally covered his mouth with his hand as they celebrated.

Italy were much improved in the full back positions. Abate, the best defensive right back in football, was rock solid but as usual hit the first man when crossing. For a player that started out as a winger his delivery has gone down the toilet while the defensive aspects of his game have improved no end under Tassotti's tutelage. Nonetheless with his performance I think he's sealed a starting berth for the next two tournaments. Balzaretti was a great outlet on the left and unlike Abate his delivery is fantastic. Barzagli was also excellent, making a timely return from injury. Motta was again poor. What does Nocerino have to do get a game? A much improved performance against poor opposition. The main problem with Italy is their attacks are laboured, too controlled. They need to pass the ball around quicker.

In his first three halves of football Pirlo played in a Juve shirt and in his last three halves he played in a Milan shirt - losing the ball and getting bullied in midfield.

Attendance : 38,794
Red Card : Andrews 89 (Ireland)
Assists : Pirlo (ck), Diamanti

14 June 2012

SPAIN 4 (Torres 4, Silva 49, Torres 70, Fabregas 83)

Dunne appeared to stuff an early chance with an excellent tackle on Silva but he was painfully slow to get to his feet, Torres picked his pocket, went past Ward and shot straight through Given's hands. Poor goalkeeping. Referee Proenca shoved Andrews in the back, sending him flat on his face and let the Spanish attack continue, as if they needed any extra help. Sloppy finishing ensured the Irish only went in a goal down at half time.

Xabi Alonso had a short charged down, Given saved from Iniesta after Xavi picked him out with a cross to the back post, the rebound fell to David Silva, he managed to find a gap through the legs of two defenders and his shot rolled inside the left post. Lovely finish. Given denied Xavi with a phenomenal one handed save. McGeady lost a ball in midfield and Silva sent Torres clear for the third. Silva worked a short corner to substitute Fabregas and from right on goal he blasted a shot into the opposite corner.

Attendance : 39,150
Assists : n/a, Iniesta, Silva, Silva

ITALY 1 (Pirlo 39 fk)
CROATIA 1 (Mandzukic 72)

Having gone close with a snapshot Balotelli wasted two further half chances, on both occasions taking too long to shoot. Cassano dragged a shot wide of the left post after Bonucci laid off a Pirlo pass with a great first time pass. Chiellini was lucky not to concede a penalty following a clumsy challenge on Jelavic. Marchisio side stepped a defender as he slid in with a tackle, drawing a brilliant save from Pletikosa, the rebound came back to him, he made space for a shot but Pletikosa denied him again. Pirlo broke the deadlock with a brilliant free kick from the left of the penalty box, the first of the tournament.

Srna should have been sent off for jumping into Motta with an elbow. The Italian/Brazilian looked out of sorts and was substituted minutes later. Chiellini failed to make what should have been a routine header from a deep crossfield pass, to his credit Mandzukic had gambled and was perfectly placed to control the ball before smashing past Buffon. Montolivo, on as a substitute for Motta, had the only notable effort the Italians managed on goal, stinging Pletikosa's palms from 25 yards.

Italy completely lost their shape in the second half as the Croatians put them under pressure. Prandelli took far too long to ring the changes - when an Italian coach gets out thought tactically he should be ashamed of himself. It's like letting another man screw your wife. Giaccherini, who is clearly not comfortable is a defensive role, should not be playing while Balzaretti, the best attacking left back in the league, sits on the bench.

Shades of Euro 2004 here - when Italy crashed out despite playing well after Denmark and Sweden conspired to play out a 2-2 draw speaking of which if Spain and Croatia draw 2-2, Italy are out. If they draw 0-0 Italy go through provided they win. If Spain and Croatia draw 1-1 and Italy win, goal difference will be used. Ideally Croatia will beat and Italy will beat Ireland and both will go through. That would be a joyous day but it's not happening.

Attendance : 37,096
Assists : Balotelli (won fk), Strinic

10 June 2012

IRELAND 1 (St Ledger 19)
CROATIA 3 (Mandzukic 3, Jelavic 43, Mandzukic 48)

Ireland failed to clear a Rakatic corner, Mandzukic worked the ball out to Srna, his deflected cross floated past the centre circle and Mandzukic's header bounced past Given at his near post. He should have done better. McGeady swung in a free kick from the left and the curiously named Sean St Ledger held off the larger Corluka to head in the equaliser. Croatia restored their lead from another corner, once again inadequately cleared. Strinic passed to Modric who, having worked an opening with a sharp turn away from a defender, scuffed his shot, sending it straight into the Irish wall, Ward sliced the ball to Jelavic and he poked over Given amid appeals for offside. Mandzukic scored what would have been one of the goals of the tournament had the ball not gone in off Given. Standing on the edge of the D Modric rolled a pass inside to Strinic, the defender took a couple of steps forward before back heeling the ball to Perisic, Perisic swung a cross to the centre circle, Mandzukic's header crashed off the inside of the right post and bounced in off the top of Given's head. Ireland should have been awarded a penalty on the hour mark when Schildenfeld went through the back of Keane. West Brom midfielder Andrews had three sights on goal and should have done better with a last minute header but in truth despite worrying defensive deficiencies the Croats were much the better side.

Attendance : 39,550
Assists : Srna, McGeady (fk), n/a, Perisic

SPAIN 1 (Fabregas 64)
ITALY 1 (Di Natale 60)

Pirlo was the first player to work a goalkeeper, his low free kick drawing a save from Casillas. Cassano dragged a shot wide of the left post while Iniesta flicked up a Xavi cross but shot over the bar. Marchisio caught a Cassano cross with a thundering volley, unfortunately straight at Casillas. The Real Madrid 'keeper made an excellent save at his near post when Motta met a Cassano cross with a muscular header.

Buffon was called into action in the opening five minutes of the second half, parrying from Fabregas and Iniesta. Balotelli chased down Ramos as he tried to clear a longball and blocked his clearance, he ran in on goal and with only Casillas to beat took an age, allowing Ramos time to recover. Having already been booked he made way for Di Natale three minutes later. Di Natale ran onto a Pirlo through ball in between two defenders and with his first touch lobbed the ball wide of Casillas into the bottom right corner. Spain hit back immediately. A lovely flick inside Italy's centrebacks was despatched by Mr Disingenuous Fabregas. Charity case Torres came on for Fabregas on 74 minutes and proceeded to tarnish his once feared and respected reputation further. A badly played offside trap left him with a clear run on goal but as he tried to round Buffon he stood tall and TACKLED him before running away and kicking the ball clear. Giovinco found Di Natale free at the back post but he couldn't get his scissor kick on target. Torres played a one-two and ran in on goal again, he sidestepped a player but lobbed hopelessly over the bar with Buffon yards off his line. Marchisio failed to find the finish to match a super run.

This was the game of the tournament so far with Del Bosque throwing a curveball in his selections and tactics. Del Bosque went with striker-less midget front three of Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva. As rumoured Prandelli deployed Conte's 3-5-2 system, with De Rossi playing centre back, reprising the role he first played when injuries forced Luis Enrique to field him in defence against Juventus. He was off the charts in that role as he was today. Spain had more possession but Italy carried a greater goal threat, thanks largely to Spain emulating Arsenal (who in turn emulate Colombia circa 1990) and overcooking their approach play. Italy were a spent force after 60 minutes and couldn't maintain their pressing. Prandelli should have replaced the exhausted Motta, who made way for Nocerino in injury time, much earlier. Italy's tackling success rate was apparently 100%. Spain played much better with a centre forward although thesedays calling Torres a centre forward goes against the trade descriptions act. Giaccherini, playing on the left of a five man midfield, was continually caught out of position. Normally he doesn't have a great deal of defensive responsibility.

Attendance : 38,869
Assists : Pirlo, Silva