Irish Fans Win The Eurovision But The Team's Still Coming Home...
Irish fans were acknowleged as the best in the Tournament - unlike the team they followed (INPHO)
Last Thursday Spain, the reigning European and World champions, showed their undoubted class by inflicting a heavy 4-0 defeat on Ireland in the EURO 2012 tie in Gdansk.
Spain ensured that skill was the ultimate arbiter as they coped with ease with all of the energy, determination and spirit that Ireland could muster on a night when the world order as it affects Ireland was illustrated with stark reality.
Ireland surrendered a goal within four minutes of the start of the game to leave themselves at a huge disadvantage, just as they had done in their previous game against Croatia. And, in a remarkable re-run of that first match, Ireland lost a second goal just four minutes after the interval.
These goals effectively put the result beyond doubt but, in truth, this was never a contest. While Ireland showed all of their traditional qualities and were still running hard at the end of 90 minutes, they were always involved in a damage limitation exercise. Spain were just too good and worked so hard that Ireland were held as if in a vice.
The first goal came when Richard Dunne slid into the tackle to knock the ball away from David Silva's feet as the Spaniard was about to shoot from 15 yards. Dunne moved quickly to regain his feet but, before he could do so, Torres snapped up the loose ball, stepped around Stephen Ward and first the ball high into the net.
The second goal came after goalkeeper Shay Given had done well to parry a powerful shot from Torres in the 49th minute. Silva snatched up the rebound and twice faked to shoot to wrong-foot defenders before slipping the ball calmly beyond Given from 16 yards.
Torres ran clear of the defence after Aiden McGeady had been caught in possession in the 70th minute. He held his nerve as Given advanced and drilled the ball under him as he reached the edge of the penalty area.
Ireland were caught disastrously off-guard for the fourth goal after 83 minutes. Given had again made a good save as he turned a shot from Cazorla around the upright.
Substitute Fabregas delayed his run into the penalty area and was unmarked when he ran on to the accurate delivery from the corner and he fired the ball home.
Ireland concluded their EURO 2012 campaign on Monday by conceding a goal in each half as they lost to Italy in Poznan.
Goals by Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli ensured the Azzurri advanced from Group C to the quarterfinals alongside Spain, who claimed maximum points from their three games by beating Croatia 1-0.
This was a much-improved performance by the Irish to the previous defeats against Croatia (1-3) and Spain (0-4), though the failure to retain possession throughout cost them dearly.
When Kevin Doyle, reinstated to the starting line-up in the only change to the side, sprinted through the centre for an early opening that the Italians foiled, things looked bright for the Irish.
However, with midfielder Andrea Pirlo becoming more influential, the Italians possessed the wherewithal to up the tempo in search of the victory which would all but guarantee their passage through the group stages.
Fluid interchanges of play by the Italians threatened Ireland on numerous occasions but, once again in the tournament, it was from a set-play that Trapattoni's charges conceded.
On 35 minutes, Pirlo chipped a corner to the near post where Antonio Cassano was first to react and applied a header which Shay Given got a hand to but couldn't prevent the ball to striking the underside of the crossbar and crossing the goal-line.
The Italians began the second half in similar vein, with Antonio De Natale going close to adding a second while Daniele De Rossi angled wide of the upright with a curler.
For Ireland, Keith Andrews tested Gianluigi Buffon with teed up free-kick on 78 minutes and Robbie Keane conjured a couple of half chances.
Controlling possession was Italy's fillip, though, and they made the game safe in the 90th minute through Mario Balotelli's volley - which arrived moments after Keith Andrews was dismissed due to a second yellow card for dissent.