Euro 2012 Day 3: The blame game
You will be hard pressed to find too many similarities between the two matches played in Group C today; the first a slow-burning tactical fight that finished in a draw, the second a fast and furious combination of thunder and blunder. In the aftermath, however, they both posed the same question: whose fault was it?
Whose fault was it that Spain had to settle for a point -- had to come from behind -- against Italy? Was it Vicente del Bosque's, for fielding a starting XI that did not include a striker? "We wanted to have superiority in the midfield so that we could have possession and arrive higher up the pitch," he explained. "The plan didn't go badly, Cesc Fabregas did very well [as a false nine]." The Spain manager had Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Torres available to play a center-forward role, but only Torres got on to the pitch, for the final quarter of an hour. "When Torres came on the match was much more open," del Bosque retorted. "We had more chances to score, but so did they."
Was it the pitch? It did not play noticeably badly, and both goals came as the result of perfectly timed, perfectly weighted moves. But the grass was too long and dry, apparently. "I don't want to complain," complained Fabregas, "but we deserve much more. It is lamentable that we have to play on a pitch like this."
Whose fault was it that Ireland crumpled against Croatia, giving up three goals and with them just about any hope of reaching the knockout stages? Was it that Shay Given had "one of those nights"? He was beaten by a 16-yard header and forced to concede an own goal when Mandzukic's second header of the night bounced back at him off the post. Was it just that the Croats were too good? The manager, Slaven Bilic, certainly thought so, saying afterwards that he expected his side to win. "We were preparing for this victory," he said. "We knew everything about this team. We knew we were a better team."
Was it that the officials cost Ireland dearly? Nikica Jelavic was not offside when he scored Croatia's second, because the ball was accidentally played to him by Irish defender Stephen Ward, but that hasn't stopped a heated discussion as to the exact meaning of that part of the offside law that refers to players "gaining an advantage by being in an offside position." Regardless, Ireland should have had a penalty in the second half, when Gordon Schildenfeld swiped his boot across the back of Robbie Keane's legs, only afterwards taking the ball.
Whichever doorstep the blame ends up on, Group C is now delicately poised for the second round of games.
A tough call today. Mario Mandzukic's second header was wonderfully steered, and though it was difficult to tell whether he intended to score with the first, its flight did studiously avoid anyone in an Ireland shirt; Nikica Jelavic took his goal with customary aplomb; both goals in the earlier kick-off were nicely set up. In the end I've plumped for Antonio di Natale's goal for Italy. The pass through from Andrea Pirlo is exquisite, and di Natale bends his run between Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos to stay just onside before dispatching the ball into the bottom corner.
"We could have won, we could have lost, the most important thing is to smile," philosophized Italy manager Cesare Prandelli after the draw with Spain. His 3-5-2 formation was brushed off the backpages by Spain's altogether more radical 4-3-3-0, and attention has been paid to the individual performances of Andres Iniesta (in sumptuous form) and Daniele de Rossi (superb in the center of that three-man defense), which could mean relatively little gets said about performances such as Claudio Marchisio's. Influential at both ends of the pitch, Marchisio never stopped running from one box to the other.
30: the temperature in degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in Donetsk at 5 p.m. on Sunday, a reading that has certainly got the English media hot under the collar, worrying about whether the England players can acclimatize quickly enough to cope.
It's getting worse for Greece -- after Avraam Papadopoulos was ruled out for six months with a knee injury, Giorgios Fotakis was caught by a teammate in training, injuring his right thigh.
The one remaining group gets underway on Monday, beginning with England versus the group favorite, France. Two years ago in South Africa, the French imploded in spectacular fashion; now they're in fine form and good spirits, with a blend of faces old and new. It's England whose campaign has already been nagged by griping and uncertainty, and Wayne Rooney, the man journalists are contractually obliged to describe as England's talisman, is suspended for this game.
Group D's other match is between Sweden and co-host Ukraine, which has recovered from a bout of food poisoning and received a