Italy 1 - Croatia 1
All was swell. Cesare Prandelli came out with the same controversial 3-5-2 system deployed against Spain, and it appeared to be working again. The Azzurri had some quality chances. Marchisio looked dangerous on a long distance rocket, and had two point blank shots snuffed by the Croatian keeper when he made himself BIG. The back 3 was matching up nicely against Croatia's 2 monstrous strikers, limiting touches. Pirlo was masterful again, scoring the first goal off a free kick in the Euros since 2004...
Even Balotelli looked to be having a decent game, and didn't embarrass himself or blow up (really curious as to what De Rossi was yelling at him after the Pirlo goal??)
Then the Italian DNA kicked in, as they tried to sit back and defend the 1-nil lead. For 135+ minutes in EURO 2012, the new Italian mantra was refreshing and exciting to watch. Then this. Kudos to Croatia, who'd made some tactical changes at half that the announcers were gushing about which allowed Luka Modric to operate in more space. You could almost see it coming, as Croatia was gaining more possession, and creeping closer to goal.
Up to the 71st minute, Giorgio Chiellini had been having a stellar tourney. For 160 minutes thru 2 games, he'd been marking his dudes, always seeming to clear anything in the danger. Then he wanders away from Mario Mandzukic for a brief and crazy moment. Ivan Strinic's cross was pin point, and credit Mandzukic for an awesome touch, gather, and strike. That dude is a stud.
Italy coulda controlled its own destiny against a piss poor Ireland side. Now, they must hope for a non-draw in Croatia / Spain, along with a W against Ireland. I'll be cheering for my pals and the Croatia side against Spain, but if things appear dim...I'll switch my rooting interest real fast.
Spain 13 - Ireland - Nil
Fernando Torres looked like the old Liverpool Fernando Torres, and scored in the opening minutes. From there on out, the crazy Spaniards were off and running. David Silva had a goal. Torres added another. And Cesc Fabregas came off the bench to blister another into the back of the net. Thanks for coming Ireland.
Based off the performances from both sides in this game, I really gotta like my Italia's chances to get thru. If Italy can't get its first win in 6 Euro / World Cup games against this Ireland team, they stink and don't deserve it. And with Spain / Croatia tied at the top of the Group, Spain really has motivation to go out on top of the group and win this game. If they do, they can avoid Germany until the Finals.
As mentioned above, I'll be pulling hard for Croatia on Monday. But if it's getting late, and they're down 1 goal, I'll be switching sides. With an Italy W, which is suspected, the only way they don't get thru is with a Spain / Croatia draw of 2-2 or more. A draw of 1-1 would force Italy to win against Ireland by 2+ goals (I think). A Nil-Nil draw...which this tourney has not seen...and Italy goes thru (I think).
ps: Huge props to the Irish fans. Down and out, the atmosphere with them in the stands was awesome until the final whistle, and then some. American sports fans could learn a lesson in this, supporting their club to the bitter end. Kudos.