The result of the Spain and Italy Group C match offered a stark contrast in expectations. For the Spaniards, it was a disappointment. For the Italians, it was a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Euro 2012 favorites went the distance against Italy, earning a 1-1 tie after a Cesc Fabregas goal in the 64th minute quelled what would’ve been a disastrous start for La Furia Roja.
Three minutes before Fabregas’ equalizer, the Azzuri went ahead courtesy of a beautiful goal from recently subbed-in Antonio Di Natale who collected a pass from Andrea Pirlo before striking it past Spain’s all-world goal keeper Iker Casillas.
The match was set-up for the Spaniards to assert their dominance in the world stage, especially after their opponents haven’t had the kind of preparations they would’ve liked leading up to the start of the tournament. But all that went flying out the window when Italy showed they could still hang against the world’s best, despite a new match-fixing scandal hanging over their heads.
It’s been written here that the Italian National Football Team is embroiled in yet another match-fixing controversy similar to the one they had six years ago when they won the World Cup. This time, the distractions began even before the team arrived in Poland. Defender Domenico Criscito was dropped from the team after being informed a few weeks ago that he was being investigated for match-fixing. Defender Leonardo Bonucci is also being investigated, although he wasn’t let go by the national team and even made an appearance in the starting line-up against Spain. There are also reports that goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is also under scrutiny.
As for Spain, the 1-1 draw against a distracted Italian squad won’t win them any support in the court of public of opinion. As the world’s number 1 team, they should’ve been better than this even without striker David Villa and defender Carles Puyol. While we certainly know that they should be able to iron out whatever wrinkles they showed against Italy, there’s no mistaking that there appears to be a growing assumption that the Spaniards can be beaten.
Meanwhile, the other Group C match saw Croatia completely ram-rodden the Republic of Ireland, finishing with a convincing 3-1 win to go ahead on the group points standing. Mario Mandzukic put Croatia on top early, scoring a header past goalie Shay Given in the third minute of the match. An Ireland equalizer in the 19th minute momentarily knotted the score at 1 apiece, but Nikica Jelavic put the Croats back on the plus side of the score just before halftime (43rd minute) with Mandzukic adding another goal – his second of the match in the 48th minute.
Croatia’s play against Ireland shows how good this team can be when its firing on all cylinders. Led by Mandzukic, Luka Modric, and Niko Kranjcar, the Blazers are all poised to make some serious noise in Group C, especially after the two teams expected to come out of it – Spain and Italy – only settled for a point apiece in the standings.
It certainly helps that they’ve got the football kits that make it easy for them to catch our attention.