Story by Robin Popley
The dream was already over for Ireland, but they still had the chance, to have the last laugh. Sadly, with the diagnostics of the Italian machine being on top form, Ireland were once again toppled by two goals to nil.
The first came following a period of pressure. The goal itself was the result of a quickly taken corner by Italy, nodded into the net at the front post, by an unmarked Cassano on 36 minutes. However, only moments beforehand, Shay Given gave us his best Lurpak impression by playing with fire and fumbling the ball out for the set-play. Nevertheless, without the usual reliability of Given, it is incredibly likely that Ireland would have failed to reach this stage of the competition. Therefore, it is somewhat disheartening that this Irish defence has shipped 7 goals, for the joy of only one: courtesy of Leicester City’s Sean St. Ledger. Briefly I gloat!
Despite playing better in this match compared to their previous two outings, that Irish goal was not forthcoming, and Italy’s victory was secured in the dying seconds. The scorer? That man, Fireman Mario ‘Sam’ Balotelli – the Manchester City star – who once remarked, ‘Why Always Me?’, on a t-shirt. If we suspect his murmurings to the bench were similar, Mario has once again excelled himself in the hero bracket. No. Scratch that. Legend! A well taken goal by a fantastic player.
However, for a short space of time, it looked like Italy may win Group D. Almost. Almost.
For 89 minutes, Spain looked flat. Dare I say…ordinary? Although their ball retention remained at a premium, the rest of their play was lacklustre, with Torres looking once again short of confidence. What a difference a game makes. Yet, the winning goal, itself scored on the stroke of stoppage time by Navas, looked more than a hint offside and the Croatian team will feel aggrieved that more was not done to appease their frustrations.
With the full time whistle bringing Croatia’s unbeaten run in this tournament to an end, Spain progressed as Group Winners with 7 points and Italy finished 2nd on 5. The Quarter Finals await them. Yet, they must fear a repeat performance, may cost them dearly. We wait with great anticipation!