Spanish point out a painful truth


GROUP C SPAIN 4 IRELAND 0:THERE WILL be plenty of talk over the next few days about how Giovanni Trapattoni got his tactics and team selection wrong in Gdansk last night but it will all be a little unfair, not so much to the Italian, who might well be accused of both, but to a group of Spanish players who were simply sublime for much of what was, all the same, a difficult 90 minutes of football to watch. The crueller pundits were right, it seemed; this really was a mismatch.

It was certainly hard to comprehend at times the extent to which Ireland were overrun. Most of the players had good and bad moments over the course of the contest, but collectively they looked a very distant second best as the Spanish outpassed, outran, outfoxed and, most disappointingly at times, outfought them.

In every way and every department Vicente del Bosque’s men showed themselves to be capable of operating on a different level.

Beforehand the Irish players had taken it in turns to say how much they were looking forward to being on the same pitch as the reigning world and European champions but at times it looked as though it must have been torture.

In any case, they are now only nominally in the same tournament and will return home after Monday’s game against Italy. There is little reason to expect that game will go well even if it cannot go a whole lot worse.

Trapattoni, no doubt, will be made to shoulder a fair portion of the blame for both this defeat and the early exit, but if there is a manager out there who could have engineered an Irish victory then we can probably take it that the FAI cannot afford him. Quite how the Italian felt Simon Cox was the best option for the role of fifth midfielder/second striker, though, was, in the circumstances, something of a mystery.

For all his undoubted effort, he certainly made little enough impact on the proceedings. But then given the scale of Spain’s superiority it really was hard to avoid the suspicion that it would not have made all that much difference at all whether Jonathan Walters, Shane Long or Kevin Doyle had been selected, and when the Stoke City midfielder got his chance in the second half he didn’t exactly transform the contest.

The same could be said about both Paul Green and James McClean although it might be of some benefit somewhere down the line that the latter got a taste of such a big occasion.

Things might, of course, have gone a little better if the Irish rearguard had beaten their record for resistance against Croatia by a lot more that a minute. Andres Iniesta was superb last night and he gave an early indication of the way he would hurt Ireland from midfield when he started the move that gave his side the lead by carving the back four apart with a low through ball for David Silva.

Richard Dunne’s sliding challenge looked good initially but he couldn’t recover in time when the ball ran loose and Torres took over, pushing the ball wide past Ward before powering it above and beyond Given.

What followed came close to being a procession at times with Ireland struggling to keep their shape or composure as they came under almost relentless pressure in a contest, almost every aspect of which was dictated by their opponents.

The title holders moved the ball at a tremendous pace with Xavi Hernandez, Silva, Sergio Busquets and the like all showing an ability to produce astonishing accuracy, even on the rare occasions they came under what they might regard as real pressure, while their movement off the ball and work-rate when trying to win it back were all tremendous.

Had their finishing been a little more clinical then they surely would have had a few more, although Given was outstanding at times. His best save of the night, perhaps, being shortly after Spain’s second when he did brilliantly to push a shot by Xavi safely away.

There was nothing he could do about the goal seven minutes earlier, though, as Ireland got themselves into trouble for the umpteenth time, with Dunne this time the culprit. The goalkeeper punched the first attempt clear but when the ball then landed at the feet of Silva he twisted and turned Stephen Ward, Sean St Ledger and Dunne before coolly stroking home.

The third followed not too long after when St Ledger and Aiden McGeady got themselves into a tangle almost on halfway and Torres was sent racing clear, with the Chelsea striker finishing just as John O’Shea completed his desperate attempt to provide cover.

The striker’s replacement, Cesc Fabregas, then completed what had all the hallmarks of a rout with a fourth when he took Silva’s corner past Green, who slipped, and buried it from 10 yards.

In reply, Ireland had a very few half chances and Iker Casillas had two saves to make, the better of them low to his left from Robbie Keane towards the end.

It was painful stuff by that stage but the supporters stayed and sang, still doing both themselves, their team and their country proud in what was Ireland’s worst competitive defeat for 41 years since a 6-0 defeat to Austria in a European Championship qualifier in Linz.

As for the players, there no shame whatsoever in being beaten by this Spain team and they were, to a considerable extent, prisoners of our hugely overhyped expectations.

Like quite a few of the key indicators used to measure the state of our battered economy, it will be quite some time before they soar so high again.