maandag 11 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - Sunday 10 June

Spain 1-1 Italy
Fabregas spares holders' blushes
The Barcelona midfielder replied almost immediately after Antonio Di Natale's strike on the hour mark to earn La Furia Roja a point in the opening match of Group C

Leonardo Bonucci; Cesc Fabregas; Gianluigi Buffon

Italy and Spain kicked off their respective Euro 2012 campaigns with an absorbing 1-1 draw on Sunday in Group C.

Antonio Di Natale drew first blood for the Azzurri on 60 minutes, coming straight off the substitutes bench to put his side ahead, but only four minutes later, Cesc Fabregas ensured their opening day ended with a share of the spoils in Gdansk.

The headline news that preceded the match was the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas as the man who would be bestowed with leading the line for the Spaniards in a 'false No.9' role, ahead of recognised strikers Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente.

Meanwhile, coach Cesare Prandelli went with a 3-5-2 formation, with Daniele De Rossi lining up in defence. Emanuele Giaccherini was also given his maiden bow for the Azzurri at left wing-back.

Predictably, inside the first 10 minutes, Spain set out their stall as Italy were put on the back foot. La Roja threatened to impose their tiki-taka style in the early stages, but la Nazionale's wall at the back refused to be beaten, lead by Daniele De Rossi.

Soon after, the first chance of the game fell to David Silva, as the Roma man's mistimed tackle saw the ball fall to Andres Iniesta, who then laid a pass off for the diminutive Manchester City star. However, his attempt was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

The move provided the impetus for Italy to hit back on 13 minutes with an Andrea Pirlo free-kick. Mario Balotelli's feint allowed the Juventus playmaker to step up and curl an attempt to the right of Iker Casillas, but the goalkeeper parried away to safety.

From there on, Italy gained momentum. Antonio Cassano was next up, collecting Claudio Marchisio's through ball, but his shot in the box went just wide of the far post with Casillas beaten. 

Spain seemed to have lost their cutting edge, but with Iniesta on the ball, they could never be discounted. Italy continued to look more purposeful in their play, but La Roja came steaming back through the Barcelona man, who saw his lobbed effort go just over.

Italy soon rued their luck as Christian Maggio ventured on another lung-bursting foray down the right, before crossing the ball on the head of an incoming Thiago Motta, but the Brazil-born midfielder's header was crucially stopped by Casllas.

No changes were witnessed during the break, but Spain came quick out of the blocks. Within moments of the restart Xavi smashed a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but Buffon was again equal, this time diving to his right to beat the ball away.

Iniesta was quick to fire yet another attempt at the Juventus No. 1 from distance, before a moment of madness saw Balotelli through on goal with the box gaping, but he wanted far too much time on the ball and was eventually dispossessed by Sergio Ramos. 

Prandelli subsequently hauled the temperamental forward off for Antonio Di Natale, who in a matter of minutes superbly latched onto Pirlo's through pass and curled an emphatic finish past Casillas on the hour mark.

However, just four minutes later, Spain took advantage of some uncertain defensive play by the Azzurri, as neat link-up play between Iniesta and Silva saw Fabregas ghost into the box to coolly restore parity.

With only 20 minutes remaining yet more opportunities were fluffed. Substitute Fernando Torres capitalised on a failed offside trap, but his one-on-one with Buffon ended with the grateful goalkeeper putting a foot in to win the ball back.

Moments later, Sebastian Giovinco scooped up a delightful pass into the path of Di Natale, who peeled away from Gerard Pique in the danger area, but he could not connect with the ball as he would have liked, seeing his effort loop just wide of the target.

Torres then was gifted with another opportunity to prove his critics wrong right at the end, but he hesitated in another one-on-one with Buffon, seeing his chip over the goalkeeper go harmlessly over to keep both sides tied after the first game of the tournament.


Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia
Two goals from Mario Mandžukić ruined Ireland's long-awaited return to a EURO finals as Croatia opened up with an impressive victory in Poznan.

Mario Mandžukić struck twice as Croatia opened their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign with a stylish victory against the Republic of Ireland.

A match played in incessant rain for long periods produced anything but a damp squib. Mandžukić, a focal point for Croatia throughout, struck as early as the third minute – the sixth-fastest goal in EURO history. Ireland rallied to level through centre-back Sean St Ledger, but Mandžukić grabbed his second after Nikica Jelavić had reclaimed the lead and Croatia never looked like slipping up from there.

Enjoying their first experience of a UEFA European Championship in 24 years, Ireland's fans were in boisterous mood despite the deluge in Poznan, but Croatia soon rained on their parade. Ireland failed to clear a corner, Darijo Srna's cross came off the back of Stephen Ward and – despite an untimely stumble – Mandžukić guided a precise header to Shay Given's left, with the goalkeeper's desperate clawed attempt not enough to keep it out.

The goal subdued the large contingent of fans dressed in green and Nikica Jelavić was nearly in straight away for a second, only to be denied by a wonderfully timed challenge from Richard Dunne. However, the Irish supporters soon rediscovered their voices as their team regained their composure. Damien Duff shot wide, Keith Andrews had a free-kick blocked and then, in the 19th minute, they levelled.

Vedran Čorluka – only passed fit on the eve of the match – bundled over Kevin Doyle on the left flank and from the resulting Aiden McGeady free-kick, St Ledger lost Čorluka at the back post to head firmly past Stipe Pletikosa. Croatia came back at Giovanni Trapattoni's men, though. Given had to beat away Ivan Perišić's drive, Jelavić headed just wide and Luka Modrić fired straight at the Ireland No1. The pressure was building, and Ireland's defence soon burst.

Another half-cleared corner came to Modrić. His tame effort ricocheted into Ward who could only stab the ball towards his own goal – his second inadvertent assist of the night – and Jelavić was waiting to flick a deft finish over the onrushing Given.

If the goal came at a bad time for Ireland, just before half-time, Croatia were not about to let the lead slip this time. Three minutes after the break, Perišić's invitation of a cross was met with glee by Mandžukić, and his powerful header hit the post, before striking the prone Given and cannoning in.

Croatia were playing on the break now, inviting Ireland on to them. Trapattoni brought on Jon Walters and Simon Cox, but apart from set pieces, Ireland were looking forlorn going forward. As their belief ebbed, Croatia reassumed their hold on possession. Ivan Rakitić shot narrowly wide and Mandžukić was a constant threat. Ireland supplied some late pressure, Andrews in particular going close with a couple of headers, but Croatia were good value for the three points and have the early lead in Group C after Italy and Spain's draw earlier in the day.

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