Spain's Fernando Torres celebrates after scoring a goal against Ireland during their Group C Euro 2012 soccer match at PGE Arena in Gdansk June 14, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
After a disappointing opening to the UEFA Euro 2012 against Italy, Spain bounced back to pound Ireland 4-0.
The victory gave the defending champions first place in Group C and eliminated the Irish from contention. Spain dominated the match from start to finish. They took 20 shots on goal to Ireland's four; they controlled possession for 66 percent of play; and according to ESPN.com, "La Roja" produced 859 passes in the entire match.
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More importantly, the victory saw the reawakening of a disappointing sleeping giant on the Spanish side. Striker Fernando Torres was once the wunderkind of Spanish soccer. He scored the three goals in the 2006 World Cup and gave Spain the game winner in the 2008 Euro Championship game against Germany. From 2001-2007 he scored 82 goals in 214 appearances for the Atletico Madrid and from 2007-2011 he scored 65 goals in 102 appearances for Liverpool. Going into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, expectations were at their highest for Torres who was expected to have a dominating tournament. However, it was not meant to be as Torres underwent knee surgery in April 2010. He got a chance to play in the World Cup in June, but scored no goals in the entire tournament. His ensuing seasons with his new club Chelsea were even worse as the superstar only scored seven goals in 46 games for the team.
In the first game against Italy, Torres' struggles continued as he blew two chances to win the game for Spain after coming on as a substitute. However, against Ireland, Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque rewarded Torres with a start over Cesc Fabregas, the lone goal scorer against Italy, and Torres responded with a tremendous game.
Just four minutes into the match, Torres raced after a loose ball in the penalty area, raced past an Irish defenseman to the right of the goal and blasted the shot into the back of the net to give Spain a 1-0 lead. The goal was a trademark Torres goal that showed off his breathtaking speed and his laser of a shot. In the second half, he scored Spain's third goal in the 70th minute when he took a David Silva pass and split the defense to find himself on a breakaway. Unlike the Italy game in which he gave the ball away on a breakaway, Torres blasted the shot past Irish goalkeeper Shay Given. Spain also saw a second half goal from David Silva in the 49th minute and a final one from Cesc Fabregas in the 83rd, moments after he subbed in for Torres.
Fabregas got the start against Italy in the first game and rewarded Spain with the lone goal in that game. However, he wound up on the bench to start the game, a spot where he was most seen during Spain's last few major tournaments. His inability to crack the lineup consistently is not a result of inconsistency or lack of talent; it is more a testament to the wealth of talent throughout the lineup. Fabregas specializes as a distributer rather than a striker, but with Xavi and David Silva currently occupying those roles splendidly, Fabregas has been relegated to the striker position. After the De Facto Striker David Villa went down with injury prior to the tournament, it seemed like Fabregas might get his chance. However, with the emergence of Torres, that window of opportunity may have gotten a bit smaller.
With the +4 goal differential and four points, Spain takes first place in Group C. With Croatia and Italy drawing 1-1 earlier in the day, Croatia also gains four points, but only has a +2 goal differential. Since three points is the maximum Ireland can get with a win over Italy on Sunday, the Irish must start packing their bags and getting their boarding passes ready to return home. They are the first team eliminated from the tournament. In order for Italy to pass on to the Quarter Finals, the Italians must defeat the Irish and hope that either Spain or Croatia wins. A tie between Spain and Croatia would force Italy to win by at least three goals or more.