The Republic of Ireland have been handed an early exit from Euro 2012 as they were beaten comfortably by current World and European champions Spain. Fernando Torres scored either side of a David Silva goal before substitute Cesc Fabregas rounded off the 4-0 rout.
Ireland needed at least a point to have any hope of salvaging their Euro 2012 campaign but it was always going to be a big ask against the might of the Spanish. Much like their Group C opener against Croatia, Ireland got off to the worst possible start, despite Simon Cox testing Iker Casillas early on in the Spanish goal. Any hopes of a great upset were dashed as soon as the 4th minute when some hesitant defending from Sean St.Ledger and Richard Dunne allowed Torres to knick the ball away and fire a shot past Shay Given, who could have also done better, from a tight angle.
It was another early blow for Ireland and it looked as if Spain were in for a comfortable night's work as they completely dominated possession after taking the lead. Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso were immense in midfield as they dictated everything; the latter slotting a delicious pass through the Irish defence with the attack eventually coming to nothing.
Ireland were finding it increasingly difficult to simply get a foothold in the game as the Spanish dictated proceedings. Even when Keith Andrews managed to pick up the ball in midfield referee Pedro Proenca unintentionally barged into him sending him to the ground which afforded Spain possession once more; the subsequent attack fortunately coming to nothing as the Irish players protested.
Although Spain had the lead and look untroubled, they were failing to go for the jugular as Ireland remained organised defensively and were just about keeping their opponents at arms length. There was still time before the interval for Iniesta to force a smart save from Given as he tipped over. Ireland made it to half time still at 1-0 down but still very much in the contest.
However, any dwindling hopes of a fightback were quashed just as the second half began. Given could only parry a shot into the path of Silva; the tricky little Spaniard allowed far too much time and space as he delightfully stroked the ball home past three Irish defenders and the diving but despairing Given. So Ireland had begun the second half the way they had the first; by conceeding.
Still Spain popped the ball around beautifully while Ireland were left chasing shadows. It required a stunning diving save from Given to keep the score at 2-0 following a shot from Xavi. Sergio Busquets went close soon after following a corner. The excellent Alonso was then replaced by Javi Martinez as Spain looked to rest their key players ahead of their final group game against Croatia. The scoring had not stopped there, however.
Torres found yet another hole in the Ireland backline and was sent clear one-on-one with Given. Although St.Ledger tried to get back, he did so in vain as the Chelsea striker dinked the ball home to make it 3-0. Irish heads were beginning to drop, but still the rout was not complete.
Torres was left unable to bag his hat-trick as he was soon replaced by Barcelona's Fabregas. Ireland's captain Robbie Keane tried to salvage some pride for his team as he forced Casillas into a smart save in what would turn out to be the best moment for the Boys in Green. But substitute Fabregas soon made it 4-0 after easily collecting the ball direct from a corner as the Irish defence went to sleep, lashing it home to cap a convincing victory for Spain and a miserable night for the Republic of Ireland.
So Vicente del Bosque will lead his men into the game against Croatia knowing that a win will see them through to the next round. As for Giovanni Trapattoni, he will now look to fulfil his team's fixtures in this major tournament against his native Italy before immediately turning his attention to attempting to get them into another one with a World Cup 2014 qualifier to content with in Kazakhstan this September.