Two of Ireland’s Group C opponents, Spain and Italy, face off in the first of our two matches today.
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Spain 1-1 Italy
16.32 – Welcome along, one and all. It’s been 191 days (4,584 hours if you prefer) since Ireland were grouped with Spain, Italy and Croatia but we’ve finally arrived.
The whole country, at least what’s left of it after the mass invasion of Poland, will be tuning in for our first involvement in a European championships since we went down to a Wim Kieft goal in June 1988.
First, however, there’s the small matter of current champions Spain’s meeting with 1968 winners Italy.
16.36 – After all the debate about who Vincente Del Bosque will opt for up front, he has sprung a surprise and left Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo and starts without a recognised striker.
Italy, on the other hand, go with the best bad-boy pairing we’ve seen since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Here are the teams:
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta. Subs: Valdes, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Pedro, Torres, Negredo, Mata, Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Reina.
Italy: Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci, Giaccherni, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Maggio, Cassano, Balotelli. Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna Obienza, Balzaretti, Abate, Di Natale, Barzagli, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
16.46 – The last time these two teams met in this competition was four years ago at the quarter-final stage. After neither could conjure up a goal in 120 minutes of play, a penalty shootout was needed with the Iberians winning out 4-2. Cesc Fabregas scored the winner.
YouTube credit: BertuCity
16.57 – Ah, the anthems. Can’t help but love Italy’s ‘Il Canto degli Italiani’.
YouTube credit: VocalNationalAnthems
16.58 – A group of particularly patriotic-looking Azzurri fans:
17.00 – The two captains, goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, shake and we’re second from getting underway.
17.07 – Christian Maggio goes storming down the right flank and is taken down by Jordi Alba with a well-timed tackle. Linesman flags, however, and Italy have themselves a free-kick. The delivery is easily headed clear though.
Winning a corner seconds later, Pirlo’s ball in is unsuccessful in finding a team-mate.
17.11 – Spain have their first stint of possession in the opposing half and when Fabregas cuts back for David Silva, the Manchester City schemer is guilty of trying to walk the ball through a wall of defenders. When the resulting corner comes out, Silva fires over.
His club-mate Balotelli has just tried his luck from longe range but a deflection takes it out for another corner, which is headed away by the first man.
17.15 – The opening 12 minutes have been played at a particularly high tempo and Silva, who along with Fabregas are Spain’s most advanced players, shoots after a break but Buffon smothers the tame effort.
Down the other end, Andrea Pirlo forces Casillas into a save after finding a whole in the Spanish wall from a free.
17.21 – Roma’s tough-tackling midfielder Daniele De Rossi, filling in at centre-back today, sporting an unorthodox one long sleeve, one short sleeve. Is it a fashion statement or is he hiding something?
17.24 – Closest we’re come to a goal. Cassano receives a pass 18 yards out and steps wide of Gerard Pique before shooting across the Spanish goal and a couple of yards wide. Italy have started well here.
17.26 – Iniesta pulls the trigger but blocked down by Di Rossi. No goals yet but the first 25 minutes have been enjoyable to watch.
17.31 – Another good strike on goal from Iniesta. A corner finds him at the back post and Buffon gets behind his low drive to stop.
17.36 – Blatant foul by Cassano on Casillas and how he hasn’t been booked, I’ll never know. The former Real Madrid man trips his one-time team-mate when he had no hope of winning the ball.
The same player has a shot minutes later and Pique and Balotelli collide while chasing down the rebound. Free out given and Super Mario punches the ground, and thankfully, not the referee.
17.39 – After Claudio Marchisio’s controlled volley from 20 yards, which Casillas stops, a clearly frustrated Balotelli then gets himself into Viktor Kassai’s book for a clumsy foul.
17.44 – Spain threatening outside Italy’s box but have yet to penetrate and you wonder how long of the second half Del Bosque will play before bringing on a striker.
What’s slightly worrying from an Irish point of view is how organised and unaffected by the latest scandal they look.
Super tackle by Leonardo Bonucci to stop Fabregas after he is put through by Silva. 25-year-old Bonucci one of six Juventus players in their line-up.
17.47 – Two real chances since my last update. Xavi finds his right-hand man Iniesta with a threaded pass and the midfielder takes a first touch and attempts a volley, which is too high to threaten Buffon.
Then Cassano whips a cross in from the left and Thiago Motta directs his header on goal but Casillas keeps him at bay.
17.48 – HALF-TIME: Spain 0-0 Italy
Mario Balotelli and Sergio Busquets. Credit: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport
18.01 – Inevitable comparisons with Chelsea v Barcelona from the RTE panel, who are calling for Del Bosque in bring on a front man. Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, on the other hand, gives this insight:
18.02 – We’re back in Gdansk. No changes on either side just yet.
18.07 – Good save from Juventus skipper Buffon, this time from Fabregas. Xavi then lets fly from distance but is wayward with his effort.
18.09 – Spain turning the screw almost immediately after the restart. Cesc to Iniesta, who fizzes his shot across Buffon and a fingertip save deny his the opener.
18.12 – Absolutely shocking play from Balotelli there. Does well initially to win the ball off Ramos to find himself through on goal with no opponent near him. Instead of advancing forward and having a go, the Man City striker takes an age to decide what to do and his delay allows Ramos to recover and make a tackle.
18.15 – That’s the last we’ll see of Balotelli today. Cesare Prandelli has just replaced him with Antonio Di Natale. No tantrums during his exit, thankfully.
18.16 – GOAL! Spain 0-1 Italy (Antonio Di Natale)
Talk about instant impact! The Udinese goal-getter latches onto a through pass after excellent work from Pirlo and he curls the ball around Casillas expertly.
18.20 – GOAL! Spain 1-1 Italy (Cesc Fabregas)
That didn’t last long. Two goals in three minutes as Iniesta finds Silva, he slots through a gap in the Italian defence and Fabregas needs only one touch to drill home.
18.24 – In the meantime, Jesus Navas is on in place of Silva, and Parma’s Sebastian Giovinco takes Cassano’s place.
18.29 – Here’s the Italy goal:
YouTube credit: GIROdeITALIA2012
It looks like Fernando Torres is readying himself.
18.32 – Torres has been on no more than a minute and immediately he’s presented with a massive opportunity. Put through on goal, he looks to go around Buffon, who is smart and stays on his feet to dispossess the Chelsea forward.
18.37 – Yellow card for Giorgio Chiellini and Spain have a free… but can only find the wall. 10 minutes to play.
18.42 – Torres is in the thick of it. He has a good chance on goal then opts to pass and loses the ball. Then, from a central position, checks back inside, spots Buffon off his line, but his chip hasn’t got the accuracy it needs. He’s also picked up a yellow card for an elbow on De Rossi.
18.47 – Golden opportunity for Italy just as Spain go in search of the winner. Marchisio finds room in midfield and storms forward, gets a one-two back, but shots straight at Casillas.
Brazilian-born Motta is off for AC Milan’s Antonio Nocerino.
18.49 – We’re 2 minutes into time added on. Xavi and Iniesta look for a way through then lay-off to Xabi Alonso. The ex-Liverpool player can hit them from distance but that’s not one of his better ones.
18.49 – FULL-TIME: Spain 1-1 Italy
18.57 – Thrilling game of football, that. Two top teams who had no intention of settling for a point in their first group game. Both will prove difficult opponents for Ireland, but we’ve got more pressing matters to attend to.
The man sitting beside me, Adrian Russell, is well into his minute-by-minute liveblog of the Boys in Green’s first involvement in a European championships for 24 years. The atmosphere has been steadily building all day so do us a favour and get yourselves over there now… Here’s the link.
19.00 – On second thought, before you leave, have a quick watch of Spain’s equaliser:
YouTube credit: MasterTutorial7
Finally… COME ON YOU BOYS IN GREEN!