The usually organised Irish defence, which had been instrumental in the team qualifying for the Euros in the first place, was simply swept aside by a Spanish team at the top of its game.
Before the match, an RTÉ poll revealed that over 75% of Irish fans believed that the team could get a result from the game. Their hopes were to prove unfounded.
The faint hope that Ireland could pull off a miracle win against the World and European Champions was dashed almost immediately when Fernando Torres opened the scoring after just four minutes, conjuring up ugly memories of the similar early goal conceded against Croatia on Thursday.
After some neat Spanish play, David Silva made a jinking run into the box. Although Richard Dunne managed to intercept Silva with a slide tackle, the ball was quickly picked up by Torres, who rounded a flat-footed Stephen Ward before firing high into the net past Shay Given.
After the early goal Spain relaxed and began to completely dominate the match, giving a demonstration in passing football to leave Ireland chasing shadows for the next 45 minutes, showing their class as the Spanish midfield completely overran Ireland.
Although the Irish did produce some spirited defending, and Keith Andrews ran his heart out in midfield, Spain never really looked threatened, as an increasingly frustrated Robbie Keane was virtually shut out of the game on his own up front.
Ireland looked in danger of being overwhelmed in the first half, with Shay Given making saves from Alvaro Arbeloa and Xavi before half time. Andreas Iniesta’s shot just cleared the top of the crossbar before the half time break, with Ireland staggering in lucky to only be 1-0 down.
Any delusions that Ireland could somehow salvage a result were shattered by a quick goal just after the break. After Given punched a Torres effort straight at Silva, the Spaniard had the time to attempt to turn twice before scoring by almost lazily stroking the ball into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-0.
The third goal followed in the 70th minute, as Aiden McGeady conceded possession to Silva in midfield. Silva then threaded the ball through to an increasingly lively Torres, who calmly tucked the ball into the bottom corner past a helpless Given.
Ireland’s misery was compounded in the 82nd minute, when some more uncharacteristically lax defending allowed substitute Cesc Fabregas to collect a short Spanish corner and fire past Given from a tight angle before the Irish defence even registered that the corner was taken.
Although he was tested early on by a shot from Stephen Cox and by a strike from Keane in the 74th minute, for much of the match Spain keeper Iker Casillas was little more than a spectator as Spain completely controlled the match, enjoying over 70% of the possession.
Although the Irish team was soundly defeated, the Green Army still managed to find their singing voices as the travelling Irish contingent bellowed out a spine-chilling rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ for the last ten minutes of the match, drowning out any of the victorious Spanish support. Throughout the tournament, the Irish fans have been a credit to the nation, and sang right up to the very end of the match for the humbled Boys in Green.
It’s a shame that the unbelievable support could not have been matched with what would have been an equally unbelievable result. After conceding seven goals in the first two games, Ireland are left with only pride to play for in their final match against Italy on Monday as the team are eliminated from their first major championship in a decade.
Ireland: Given, O’Shea, St. Ledger, Dunne, Ward, Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady, Cox, Keane. Subs: Westwood, Doyle, Kelly, McShane, Walters, Gibson, Hunt, O’Dea, Long, Green, McClean, Forde.
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Torres, Iniesta. Subs: Valdes, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Pedro, Fabregas, Negredo, Mata, Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Reina
Did Spain deserve to win last night ? What went wrong for the Irish side ?
Image : Wikimedia Commons