By Nate Jacobson
When Spain and Italy drew in the first match of Group C, the door opened for Croatia or Ireland to jump into the driver seat of the group.
Croatia took full advantage of the opportunity with a 3-1 over the unlucky Irish.
I watch both matches on Sunday from Fado Irish Pub in Chicago. The pro-Irish crowd sat and stood in shock when Ireland conceded three goals the should’ve been prevented.
It was a challenge for opposition to score on Giovanni Trapattoni’s men in qualifying. Croatia put pressure on the Irish early and Mario Mandzukic scored on a header from 13 yards out. The ball went past goalkeeper Shay Given, who may have parried the ball away from the net if he was fully healthy.
Ireland gave hope to their large traveling fan base in Poznan, Poland and the supporters at Fado in Chicago. Sean St. Ledger got on the end of a free kick in the 19th minute and made no mistake about his header to the bottom corner.
Croatia went back in front right before halftime as Nikica Jelavic picked up right where he left off with Everton. Jelavic pounced on a mistake by Stephen Ward to put Croatia up for good.
Croatia doubled their advantage on another headed goal by Mandzukic. This one hit the post and caromed off the head on Given. Another flooky goal let up by Ireland and their fans felt very unfortunate.
Croatia had more chances overall and took them well. They must bring another strong performance to their second match against Italy on Thursday. Ireland faces an uphill climb and will meet Spain next in Gdansk.
A Match of Unique Formations
Spain and Italy both used interesting tactics in their draw on Sunday.
Spain played a 4-3-3 formation, but with no true striker. Vicente del Bosque chose to start Cesc Fabregas with Fernando Torres not in goal scoring form and Fernando Llorente without much competitive international experience. Fabregas played as a center striker with David Silva and Andreas Iniesta on the wings. Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso played behind the trio in the midfield. Looking at players natural positions Spain played a 4-6-0.
Del Bosque was rewarded when Fabregas netted an equalizer off a lovely piece of passing with Silva and Iniesta. Torres came in for Fabregas in the 74th minute and missed two decent chances to give Spain three points.
Italy played in a 3-5-2 formation. Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano were the starting striker duo. However, the substitute Antonio Di Natalie scored a goal four minutes after he replaced the erratic Balotelli. The Italians played five in the midfield and defensive midfield ace Daniele De Rossi dropped to play center back between Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. The formation worked for Italy and should be used for the Croatia and Ireland matches.
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