Euro 2012 Day 7 Wrap: Torres Shines for Dominant Spain, Italy Held by Croatia
Day 7 at Euro 2012 brought with it a message from Spain to their German co-favorites: Anything you can do, we can do better.
A day after Germany made their case as the tournament's best team, Spain one-upped their challengers in every way.
On Wednesday, Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1 in a battle of old, bitter rivals.
On Thursday, the defending champs embarrassed Ireland 4-0 in an utter mismatch.
Along the way, Chelsea's oft-criticized £50 million man Fernando Torres sparkled—and gave Spain the answer to an important question.
Elsewhere, Italy and Croatia drew 1-1, setting up what could be a thrilling final day of action in Group C.
All the details await inside.
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Fernando Torres found personal redemption and the back of the net twice in Spain's 4-0 thumping of the Republic of Ireland in Gdansk, Poland.
Spain and manager Vicente del Bosque, meanwhile, found the answer to their most important tactical question of the tournament.
Torres, nicknamed El Niño, struck early in the fourth minute and again in the 70th, his goals seemingly putting to rest the question over whom Del Bosque would start in the attack.
In Sunday's opener, Spain started without a recognized striker, opting instead for six midfielders in an experimental 4-3-3—some would argue 4-6-0—formation.
That changed Thursday. Torres, a true striker, started up top and needed only four minutes to score.
It was a bit of redemption for Torres, who endured persistent criticism from fans and media during the last club season. El Niño transferred from Liverpool to Chelsea for £50 million in January 2011 and has largely struggled since.
But on Thursday, he was key for Spain.
The Beautiful Game
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Torres wasn't the only player scoring goals for Spain on Thursday. In fact, all four strikes came from the top drawer.
David Silva's goal in the 49th minute might have been the best.
The Manchester City midfielder received a pass in the box, turned and rolled the ball along the pitch past three defenders and diving Irish goalkeeper Shay Given.
Fields of Athenry
Thursday's loss eliminated the Republic of Ireland from contention for the knockout phase.
Once again, Giovanni Trapattoni's team suffered from a slow start.
On Sunday, Croatia scored within minutes of the start of both halves. Spain did the same Thursday, scoring in the fourth and 49th minutes.
On a positive note, the Irish fans sang their team off the pitch with a spine-tingling version of "The Fields of Athenry."
It was one of the highlights of the tournament so far, and it was certainly the high point of Ireland's stay at Euro 2012.
Pirlo Curls a Beauty
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In Thursday's early match, midfielder Andrea Pirlo gave Italy the lead with an excellent 39th-minute free kick.
Pirlo curled his kick up and over the wall and into Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa's net at the near post.
Otherwise, Pletikosa was immense for Croatia, and Pirlo's shot was good enough to be a match-winner.
It just didn't turn out that way.
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Mario Mandzukic might not have a club, but he's found his scoring touch this summer for Croatia.
The forward struck again for Slaven Bilic's team, equalizing in the 72nd minute to give Croatia a 1-1 draw with Italy.
That gives him three goals for the tournament, tied for the most of any player. What's more, Mandzukic has probably earned a few offers for his services next season.
After falling out with his manager at VfL Wolfsburg (though they did eventually make up), Mandzukic is looking for a new club this summer, per Reuters.
Think he'll have any takers?
Group C Table
Through two matches, Spain and Croatia lead Group C with four points each. Italy have two points and the Republic of Ireland have zero.
The top two teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals.
Spain and Croatia meet on the final matchday, and the winner will clinch the top spot in the group. If they draw 2-2, Italy would be out, no matter their result against Ireland.
Quote of the Day
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Leave it to Nicklas Bendtner to bet on himself like this.
Bendtner, the notoriously self-confident Denmark striker, has landed himself in hot water for a cheeky goal celebration against Portugal.
After his second goal of the match, Bendtner lifted his shirt to reveal his underpants. Imprinted on the waistband was the logo of Irish betting firm Paddy Power.
The stunt earned him a rebuke from UEFA.
Bendtner's defense? He didn't know it would be an issue (via The Guardian):
"It is just a pair of lucky boxer shorts that I used in the first game as well and have used before the tournament," said Bendtner. "I didn't know that I was breaking any rules but I am aware of that now."
Sure he didn't.
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Group D resumes play on Thursday, with leaders Ukraine taking on France in Donetsk at noon ET.
England and Sweden play at 2:45 p.m. in Kyiv.