15:37 EST 18 June 2012
Too little, too late and just not good enough, the Republic of Ireland succumbed to the inevitable in Poznan on Monday night and crashed out of Euro 2012 after being outclassed by Italy.
The damage already done by the humiliating defeats to Croatia and Spain, Giovanni Trapattoni’s deflated troops were unable to pull off the shock of the tournament to halt Italy’s progress to the quarter-finals.
They held on for 35 minutes, albeit with their backs up against a big Poznan wall, but when Antonio Cassano nodded Italy into the lead, Ireland were never likely to recover. Italy had to wait until the last minute for Mario Balotelli’s second, but it was no surprise when it came.
Italy: Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini (Bonucci 57), Balzaretti, Pirlo, Marchisio, Thiago Motta, De Rossi, Di Natale (Balotelli 74), Cassano (Diamanti 62).
Subs not used: Sirigu, Maggio, Ogbonna, Giaccherni, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
Booked: De Rossi, Buffon, Balzaretti.
Goals: Cassano 36, Balotelli 90.
Rep of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St. Ledger, Ward, McGeady (Long 65), Whelan, Andrews, Duff, Keane (Cox 86), Doyle (Walters 76).
Subs not used: Westwood, Kelly, McShane, Gibson, Hunt, O’Dea, Green, McClean, Forde.
Booked: Andrews, St Ledger, O’Shea. Sent off:Andrews.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
The danger is whether this much-improved performance gives Trapattoni the ammunition to stay on as manager. If he does, he won’t have the same players.
The performance may have been much improved but it could only paper over the cracks of an unhappy Ireland squad who have been ruthlessly exposed on their long-awaited return to the big stage.
They waited 10 years for a place in a major finals and it was over in five days.
For the first time in Euro 2012, they did manage to get to the five-minute mark without conceding a goal, and in fact if Kevin Doyle had kept his head and his feet they could have taken the lead after just 20 seconds.
The Wolves striker seized on a loose, weak pass by Andrea Pirlo from kick-off but lost his footing as he tried to run at centre-backs Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, allowing the pair to clear between them.
The Italian response was immediate and Ireland fans may have feared the worst when Antonio Di Natale found space on the right and his cross was met by Daniele De Rossi, whose meaty volley flew harmlessly wide.
Captain for the night Damien Duff’s first act on the occasion of his 100th cap – and arguably his last – was to win a free-kick in a good position on the right.
His in-swinging cross was met by Richard Dunne, whose header was instantly blocked by Chiellini. The loose ball fell to Keith Andrews but his shot was blocked.
Although Italy did win a couple of corners, Ireland looked in control at the set-pieces with Dunne and John O’Shea making vital clearing headers. As in Moscow, Dunne was like a one-man blocking machine throughout the game.
Curler: Daniele de Rossi has a shot on goal
O’Shea was quickest to react when Cassano found room on the right and his cross into the middle was put behind by the Sunderland defender.
And when Cassano played another intricate pass into the middle for Di Natale, it was Dunne who made the crucial block.
Sean St Ledger also made a vital block in front of Given’s goal to keep out a Cassano drive, with the Italians claiming a penalty which was rightly turned down by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir.
Battle: Glenn Whelan and Alessandro Diamanti vie for possession
But as much as Ireland must have been satisfied with their much-improved defensive work, offensively they were simply not a threat and lost possession too easily.
Glenn Whelan in particular was guilty of hopelessly loose passes in promising positions, ruining one move when Pirlo was feigning injury, to Robbie Keane’s annoyance. Aiden McGeady and Andrews both made similar basic errors.
It was an hour before Gianluigi Buffon had a save to make, and that was a standard pick-up in front of him when Andrews shot from 25 yards.
Winner: Cassano beats Keith Andrews to Pirlo’s corner
So when a Whelan pass from outside his own area went astray, Di Natale was played in by Thiago Motta, and the AC Milan striker danced round Given but saw his shot from a difficult angle cleared by St Ledger.
But Ireland failed to clear that danger properly, resulting in a 25-yard shot from Cassano which deceived Given, who made another uncharacteristic error and spilled the ball to concede a corner unnecessarily.
Inevitably, Ireland paid for their No 1’s error.
Diving in: De Rossi challenges Damien Duff
Pirlo’s near-post corner was met by Cassano in front of Andrews and although Given got a hand to the ball, it had crossed the line before Duff managed to clear via the crossbar. You could feel the shoulders of all 11 players sag, never mind see it.
The Italian assault on the Irish goal continued immediately after the break with Dunne providing another crucial block to deny Pirlo before Federico Balzaretti squirmed past O’Shea in the corner and secured space for Cassano at the edge of the area with a clever pull-back, only for Dunne’s frame to keep out the shot.
High hopes: Given spreads himself
After Pirlo had wasted a promising free-kick, as O’Shea walked as close to a red card as any booked defender could be allowed, Given’s only other action was a routine save from Cassano’s replacement, Alessandro Diamanti, who also wasted a set free-kick at the edge of the Irish penalty area.
Man of the hour: Cassano celebrates his goal
When a similar opportunity fell to Ireland in the 78th minute, after Jon Walters again underlined his dangerous credentials by winning the clear foul from Leonardo Bonucci’s messy challenge, it was Andrews who stepped up.
While his drive flew through a crowd of players, Italy captain Buffon responded with a firm two-handed save to keep the shot out. It was as near as Ireland came to causing an upset.
Off: Keith Andrews is escorted from the pitch after his red card
And any chance of that was buried in the dying minutes when Andrews was sent off for his second bookable offence and substitute Balotelli grabbed a brilliant second.
Andrews, who was booked late in the first half for a foul on Thiago Motta, appeared to be cautioned for dissent by Cakir. His head gone completely, he then angrily booted a ball high into the stands.
Settler: Balotelli doubles Italy’s lead late on
Seconds later, Balotelli sealed the win, and Italy’s place in the quarter-finals, with a wonderful volley on the turn from a Pirlo corner, skilfully beating O’Shea and Given.
The game was well and truly up for Ireland.
Antonio Cassano was born on July 12th, 1982 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Cassano
July 12th, 1982
7 + 12 +1+9+8+2 = 39 = his life lesson = Charming. Compliments.
July 12th, 1982
7 + 12 +2+0+1+1 = 23 = his personal year (from July 12th, 2011 to July 11th, 2012) = Athlete. Sports. Leadership. Taking the lead. Leading the way.
23 year + 6 (June) = 29 = his personal month (from June 12th, 2012 to July 11th, 2012) = Teamwork. Cooperation. Skilled. Talented.
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