Ireland are a long way off the pace
There is no shame in losing to the best teams in the world when you’re a relatively small country with a limited pool of players to pick from, but the worrying thing from an Ireland perspective is just how big the gap is between ourselves and the top sides.
Spain destroyed us from start to finish and stepped up a gear as needed. They chalked up more passes than any other game, including those that went to extra time, in the history of the European Championships and scored with ease when they wanted to.
The Irish team, on the other hand, were chasing shadows for most of the 90 minutes and buckled under the pressure of wave after wave of Spanish attack.
It’s time to cut loose the old guard
The likes of Shay Givem, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Richard Dunne have been fantastic servants to their country for a decade or more but the time has come to move on and bring in the next generation of Irish internationals.
The group for the World Cup qualifiers is a daunting one with Germany, Sweden and Austria all good sides so we face an uphill battle to make it to Brazil 2014. With the European Championships expanding to 24 teams from 2016, qualification should be a lot more attainable so by blooding a new breed over the next two years we should be in a good position by the time the tournament in France comes around.
The likes of Kieran Westwood, Ciaran Clark, James McCarty, James McClean and Shane Long need to be trusted and given a consistent run in the side to aid their development. Now is as good a time as any to begin the transition.
If Ireland go behind, they’re fecked
Conceded early against Croatia and conceded early against Spain, in both halves.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s side is build on the supposed strength of its defence and the resiliance that got them to the Euros in the first place. However, if they fall behind the whole game plan becomes unstuck because there isn’t the quality on the park and every goal scored takes monumental effort. While many point out that Trapattoni is only working with what he has, there is no excuse for not having a Plan B should they go a goal down. Against Croatia, Trapattoni wanted to play Simon Cox but at the same time couldn’t possibly upset the system so played him completely out of position on the left wing.
Even last night, he brought on a defensive clogger in Paul Green to replace the very similar Glenn Whelan rather than going for something with a bit of attacking impotis like Darron Gibson. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and it’s very much true in Trapattoni’s case, especially if he displays no interest in changing his ways.
Spain will take some beating
While Ireland weren’t up to much, Spain still had to put the ball in the net and get the three points to join Croatia at the top of the group. They did it comfortably thanks to the early goal, but also never allowed Ireland any sort of foothold in the game. At half time, Xavi and Xabi Alonso had completed more passes (106) than the entire Irish team (104) as the game flowed in one direction and that pattern was repeated in the second half.
Of course, other teams have looked strong, Germany in particular, but with a wealth of talent to bring off the bench they look like living up to the expectations.
Fernando Torres isn’t done just yet
Two goals and an all round decent performance from Torres will have given Vincent del Bosque some food for thought when he picks his team for the final group game against Croatia. The 4-6-0 is still very much an option, as evidenced when Cesc Fabregas replaced Torres for the latter stages of the game, but having a player leading the line who scored twice in his previous run out is a great option to have.
Of course, many will point to the inadequacies in the Irish defence when arguing that Torres still has a long way to go but both his goals last night were excellent finishes and evoked memories of the player who first lit up the Premier League when he joined Liverpool.