[EURO 2012 WRAP] Italy scored in the first half, while beating Ireland 2-0. Its lead made for a tense second half between Spain and Croatia. Spain -- in a performance similar to its World Cup final victory -- won 1-0, taking the group with Italy second and Croatia third.
For the first time since July 11, 2010, the date of the World Cup final in South Africa, defending Euro champ Spain was at risk of being eliminated. This game ended in similar fashion, as Spain kept its chase for history alive.
Once Italy took the lead in the 37th minute over Ireland things got serious. The 1-0 lead for Italy, and no goals in this game, would see Spain finishing second in the group, and Croatia out. But a win by Italy meant Spain would be eliminated with a loss -- and Spanish fans had reason to be nervous for nearly 90 minutes.
Croatia looked more dangerous with their limited chances and Luka Modric’s outstanding run, and cross, found Ivan Rakitic yards away from the face of goal in the 59th minute. Iker Casillas stopped Rakitic’s powerful header, in the 79th Croatia put Spain in danger again on a well hit volley from Ivan Perisic. Casillas did his job, and Spain’s famous patience was finally rewarded, yet again.
Meeting a chip from Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta’s calm first touch in the box, an unselfish pass, was finished by Jesus Navas in the 88th minute, guaranteeing Spain’s passage into the quarterfinals. It also left it just three wins away from winning three straight major tournaments.
Spain finished top of the group, meaning it can't meet Germany until the final. Croatia is headed out. A cruel fate for a team that played so well and for most of the game was a goal away from advancing.
Ireland allowed fewer than three goals for the first time at Euro 2012, but couldn’t find a way to score against Italy in Posnan, losing 2-0 to Italy.
There was much talk about the possibility of a 2-2 final score in the other game that would eliminate Italy no matter what they did. Andrea Pirlo dismissed it saying quality players like Xavi and Iniesta wouldn’t do such a thing. Pirlo knows a thing or two about midfield excellence, the 33-year-old assisted in Italy’s crucial first goal, and has been its best player thus far. Antonio Cassano opened the scoring off a corner from Pirlo that barely crossed the line, and Mario Balotelli's superb volley removed all doubt at the end of regular time.
Ireland heads home having allowed nine goals in their three matches while scoring only one. Italy will await the winner of Group D.
Looking back on the winner in South Africa from 2010:
Iniesta’s poised finish in the 116th minute against the Netherlands gave Spain its first World Cup title. Fabregas played in the final ball; Navas was critical in the buildup. Navas and Fabregas both came off the bench on Monday, as they did in the World Cup Final
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