Champs Spain up against tricky Ireland

Champs Spain up against tricky Ireland

Spain’s sizeable Barcelona contingent may be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu when they face Ireland on Thursday in their second Group ‘B’ match at Euro 2012. 

Just as Barca did in the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea, the European and world champions will likely spend huge chunks of the game with the ball at their feet, plotting and scheming a way through a forest of opposing defenders.

Ireland’s intentions will be even more limited than those of Chelsea, who somehow managed to score three times against the Catalans over two legs having spent most of the tie watching the ball fizz around in front of them. After misfiring in a 1-1 draw against Italy, when coach Vicente del Bosque refrained from using a specialist striker until Chelsea’s unlikely Nou Camp hero Fernando Torres came on 15 minutes from time, Spain desperately need a win.

The prospect of a green barricade in front of them in Gdansk could be the source of unease, even more so because of the recent trend favouring teams who sit back in their own half and soak up punishment.

Chelsea also did it against Bayern Munich in the final, Denmark succeeded with it against the Netherlands and England, to a lesser extent, used the tactic against France as they eked out a 1-1 draw. Boxing great Muhammad Ali’s famous ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic that slowly extinguished George Foreman’s fire all those years ago seems to be catching on in football and Ireland will be hoping to avoid a knockout blow after a 3-1 loss to Croatia.  Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets, one of the Barca players driven to distraction by Chelsea, knows exactly what to expect. “Patience will be key,” he said. Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland are 10-1 with bookmakers to win but Busquets warned against predictions of a one-sided contest.

“In the finals of a competition like this, no team will gift you anything and there are not going to be any thrashings handed out,” he said. “At the last World Cup, for example, the matches were decided by one goal,’” Busquets added. Trapattoni, Ireland’s coach, expects Spain to operate with a striker, probably in the form of Torres, a former Liverpool team-mate of Ireland’s record scorer Robbie Keane. Keane, who could find himself up front alongside Jonathan Walters with Kevin Doyle dropping to the bench, said there were parallels between Chelsea’s task and the one they face. “People expect Spain to win every game but in football it doesn’t always happen.”