Ireland Euro 2012 Focus - Trapattoni’s men face Spain in toughest test of all
The Republic of Ireland go into the most difficult game of all against reigning world and European champions Spain knowing that defeat will spell an end to their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of Euro 2012.
Ireland suffered a disappointing 3-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia in their opening Group C fixture, but could consider themselves unlucky on a number of counts. Giovanni Trapattoni's game plan was to keep things tight at the back and hope to nick a goal. This went out of the window when Mario Mandzukic scored in the second minute, but the Irish did manage to battle back and get themselves level thanks to a Sean St Ledger goal from a set piece.
The Irish support went wild and roared their encouragement as their team began to surge forward, but in truth Croatia boasted the classier players. Luka Modric got his slick passing game going and dictated play from the centre of the park. Thursday's opponents, Spain, possess a midfield packed with such players, who will keep the ball away from Ireland and probe away to create openings.
The Irish defence will need to be much more robust than in their opening game if they are to avoid defeat at the hands of one of the finest sides to have graced international football. Against Croatia, Trapattoni's men never built the platform to give themselves the chance of a result.
The Croats were however fortunate to take the lead. Nikica Jelavic netted after Stephen Ward's attempted clearance fell beautifully for the Everton striker to clip his finish over Shay Given. It was the veteran goalkeeper's turn to blush after the third, a sucker punch just after the interval. Mandzukic's shot came back off the post and hit Given in the face, to cap off a night to forget for the Irish custodian. There have been fingers of blame pointed in his direction concerning the softness of Croatia's opener, but the Aston Villa keeper will need to recover to put in a performance he is capable of against the defending champions.
Spain will pull Ireland all over the pitch, and Trapattoni will hope that his intensive training regime in the run-up to the tournament will see its rewards. The Boys in Green will have to cover a lot of ground and stick to their defensive duties to have any chance of a result.
It is possible that Jonathan Walters will be handed a start to aid the formation of a five-man midfield when Ireland don't have the ball. Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan will have to be at the top of their games positionally to stem the flow of Spanish attacks, and Ireland will hope for better luck than the decision that saw Robbie Keane denied a 63rd minute penalty versus the Croats.
The Irish players and supporters will harbour hope until it has vanished and will draw on their impressive record prior to the Croatia defeat for inspiration. Trapattoni's famous "we no lose" mantra needs to be rekindled to avoid elimination. The Telegraph also quoted the Italian as saying "we have to believe". They will have to do more than just believe if they want to still be in the competition come Friday morning.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Spain v Ireland