So it’ll be a Spain-Italy final, both conquerors of Ireland in the group stages. The Spanish have been accused of boring us with their dominance while star of the tournament Pirlo has led the 2006 World Champions, Italy, to the decider. Does the meeting of the Mediterranean masters cast the performances of Ireland at Euro 2012 in a different light?
The only luck Trapattoni’s Republic received in Poland was that Spain didn’t beat us by more. It’s true Holland also had a dismal campaign but even when drawing 1-1 with Croatia in the opening game, Ireland’s style of football was neanderthal.
Much of the criticism aimed at the Boys in Green centred on Giovanni Trapattoni’s system. Yet even on this charge, it’s arguable the Irish players failed. They abandoned the tactics the Italian manager had spent the previous four years drilling into them. They were a shadow of the side that contested the qualifiers.
Only a handful of the Irish players could claim to have risen to the occasion in Poland. Keith Andrews enhanced his reputation and answered some of the critics who bemoaned the ineptitude of our midfield throughout the qualifying campaign. Sadly, his central partner Whelan looked woefully out of his depth.
That’s an accusation that could be levelled at plenty of his team-mates. The cries for Aiden McGeady to finally live up to his potential seem worthless now. On the biggest stage of all, he offered virtually nothing while, in all three games, the crowd clamoured for the introduction of McGeady’s positional rival James McClean.
McGeady’s lack of defensive contribution only served to expose Ward at left-back and many will call for a total shake-up of our back-four.
Kevin Doyle went some way to ridiculing Trapattoni’s decision to demote him with his tireless work-rate against Italy.
The only straw we can cling to giving credibility to the view that a Spain-Italy final offers perspective to our Euro failings was our final display against the Azzurri. We made life difficult for Prandelli’s side and restored some semblance of pride but in truth Mario Balotelli and co. were comfortable.
Our inability to retain possession for any period of time meant we were horrible to watch. Few mourned the elimination of the Republic.
The Spanish players don’t even mention the Irish game in interviews save to remark on the phenomenal support offered by the Green Army. Fernando Torres’ two goals against Shay Given did nothing to stave off the humiliation of being benched for pretty much the rest of the tournament.
From the start, the experts predicted a Spain-Germany final. Pirlo and Italy gave the first indication that the Spanish were not invincible in their meeting in the group stages. Now Prandelli has overseen the expulsion of one of the tournament favourites.
There’s no doubt the final pairing serves to emphasise the size of the task that faced Ireland from the outset. Unfortunately the concession of a goal after three minutes against Croatia shattered the illusion that we could make our mark on Euro 2012. The Irish failed to do themselves justice, but truth be told, we were so bad, it would have been a crime had we taken anything from our displays.
Time heals all wounds, however. It’s only been two weeks since our involvement but with the tournament building to a crescendo, the record books will still say Ireland were among the competing nations.
The irony is that in Euro ’88, our opponents in the group stages Holland and the USSR also went on to contest the final. Of course, then we had Stuttgart. There’ll be no such highlights this time around.
Giovanni Trapattoni must turn his thoughts towards World Cup qualifying and the monumental task of re-educating his broken team with a new game-plan. When we sit down to watch Sunday’s final, we’ll be reminded how, in more ways than one, Spain and Italy are playing a very different game to us.