Spain and the Republic of Ireland will confront each other in a critical Group C matchup on Wednesday in Euro 2012. Both teams are in need of a victory after disappointing result in their respective opening matches.
Spain were held to a 1-1 draw with Italy in their opening encounter. Ireland suffered a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in their opening fixture.
Spain used an unusual 4-3-3 formation against Italy, as Andres Iniesta was moved up from his normal midfield position, to a left-wing forward setting, which was a surprise to most observers. Manager Vicente Del Bosque decided to start striker Fernando Torres on the bench, using him a substitute in the 74th minute. What Del Bosque does with his team sheet for the Ireland match, remains to be seen.
Very possible that Torres, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva will be the starting forwards against Ireland. Fabregas notched Spain’s lone goal against Italy after taking a delicate back heel from Silva before finishing it with aplomb. It is possible to see Pedro make the team sheet as well. The Barcelona winger brings pace down the flank, and is adept at finding open spaces on the pitch.
The midfield will still be centred around Xavi and Iniesta. The Barcelona tandem are masters at the short passing game that Spain favours. Iniesta is much more comfortable as a midfielder than forward, and it would be prudent for Del Bosque to move the great Iniesta back to an attacking midfielder. If Iniesta does move back to midfield as expected, Del Bosque as a different quandary on his hands. Both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets are steadfast, holding midfielders. It is possible that one could be used a substitute, but Del Bosque will have to make the call before kick-off on who makes the team sheet.
The back four shouldn’t change as Del Bosque likes consistency at the back. Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba are on yellow cards, so they will have to be cautious in their approach. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos should start at centre backs. Ramos was somewhat laborious against Italy and must improve his form for Spain to have future success.
The one sure thing in the Spain lineup is keeper Iker Casillas. Even though he did concede a goal against the Italians, Casillas was reliable in the Spain net, making some crucial saves, to preserve a point for Spain.
The Irish did show spirit and determination against Croatia, but lacked quality and creativity which led to their downfall. Robbie Keane did not produce much up front, and will have to conjure some offence if Ireland have any hope in reaching the quarters. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has other options up front, but the quality is still lacking. Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, and Simon Cox could all be used as a second forward alongside Keane. There is the possibility that Keane may start the game on the bench as Ireland may go to a 4-5-1 to defend the Spanish attack. Trapattoni does favour a traditional 4-2-2 however, so expect two strikers up front for Ireland.
The midfield does have a talismanic figure in Aiden McGeady. The Spartak Moscow midfielder is a key component in the Irish attack and he will be tested to the limit against Spain. McGeady prefers to go down the right flank and use his superb crossing ability to provide the service for Keane and the other forwards. Damien Duff, Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan are expected to start at midfield, unless Trapattoni has a trick up his sleeve.
The back four was strained against Croatia and must be better against Spain. John O’Shea in particular was woeful for Ireland and he must return to form or Ireland will have faint hopes.
Sean St. Ledger did have a strong game for Ireland. The Leicester City centre back managed the only goal for Ireland finishing off a terrific set piece with a robust header that found the back of the net. Richard Dunne and Stephen Ward should round out the starting backfield, but all need to be improved for Ireland.
This could also be the litmus test for Shay Given. The Aston Villa keeper was unconvincing against Croatia, and perhaps age is starting to catch up to him. Many commentators have suggested this is the 36-year-old’s swan song with the Ireland national side. It will be a challenge for Given as Spain can attack with precision and force. If Given can’t hold up, Ireland are in for a long night.
Prediction: Spain weren’t pleased with their opening of their Euro account and swore they would be better in their next fixture. Ireland looked wayward in the back, and despite the fact they show spirit and heart, the quality and pace are lacking. Spain takes this one 3-0.
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