Defending champs Spain held by Italy, Croatia impress
Spain's bid to become the first team to win three successive major international titles began in unconvincing fashion after Italy repelled Iberian flair with Latin artistry to earn a 1-1 draw at Euro 2012 on Sunday.
With both sides probably happy to emerge with a point apiece from their Group C opener, Croatia then boosted their hopes of challenging for a quarter-final place by beating Ireland 3-1 in the Polish city of Poznan.Spain, the clear tournament favourites after mesmerising opponents to become European champions in 2008 and then world champions two years ago, saw their run of 14 straight wins in competitive matches end in their heavyweight clash in Gdansk.
Image: Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi (left) and Antonio Di Natale (right) acknowledge supporters after the match against Spain
Photographs: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
Spain struggled to go past Italy's resolute defence
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas soon quietened Italian celebrations after substitute Antonio Di Natale's goal on the hour, hammering in a 64th minute equaliser, but it failed to spark Spain into life.
They struggled to get into gear as a vibrant and well-organised Italy, showing they can never be discounted when major tournaments come around after successive defeats in three warm-up friendlies, mixed resolute defence with moments of flair.Despite dominating possession and having almost double the number of goal attempts, Spain lacked a knockout punch.
Image: Spain's Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring against Italy
Photographs: Leonhard Foeger / Reuters
'If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have a better match'
Vicente del Bosque faced questions as to why he started without a striker and left Fernando Torres kicking his heels on the bench for three quarters of the game, but the coach took umbrage with the pitch, rather than his team.
"A pitch that is so dry does not do football or the spectators many favours," he said.
"If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have been better for both teams and a better match."
Del Bosque will hardly panic at failing to make a winning start. Spain were stunned 1-0 by Switzerland in their 2010 World Cup opener before going on to win the trophy for the first time.
Image: Italy's Mario Balotelli is challenged by Spain's Sergio Ramos (right)
Photographs: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
Super-sub Di Natale fired opening salvo
Italy, fielding a three-man defence well marshalled by Daniele De Rossi, who was switched from his usual midfield role, were good value for their opening point.It comes as a huge boost to coach Cesare Prandelli who will take satisfaction from what proved to be an astute substitution, Di Natale finishing clinically from Andrea Pirlo's pass just minutes after replacing the ineffective Mario Balotelli.
Image: Italy's Antonio Di Natale scores past Spain's goalkeeper Iker Casillas
Photographs: Tony Gentile / Reuters
Croatia defeat Ireland in convincing fashion
Croatia made a flying start to their campaign after an off-balance Mario Mandzukic headed Slaven Bilic's side ahead after three minutes.
Sean St. Ledger headed Ireland level in the 19th but Croatia regained the lead three minutes before the break when Nikica Jelavic prodded past goalkeeper Shay Given.
Ireland were rocked again at the start of the second half when Mandzukic's header hit the post and ricocheted against the hapless Given's head and into the net.Croatia could be in trouble after their fans celebrated their second goal by letting off firecrackers and flares.
Image: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic heads to score past Ireland's John O'Shea (2nd from left) and Damien Duff
Photographs: Bartosz Jankowski / Reuters
Ireland fought back momentarily
Earlier, Croatian fans threw chairs, bottles and flares at Polish riot police before the game with three people arrested after the incident in Poznan's old town square.
Ireland's 73-year-old coach Giovanni Trapattoni had hoped to frustrate Croatia but that plan was blown apart with an odd early goal.
Mandzukic, who had stumbled from his knees and was unmarked, got up just in time to head Darijo Srna's cross from the right past a stranded Given.
However, Ireland regrouped well with Damian Duff hooking a shot wide and Keith Andrews wasting a great chance by firing into the wall after a free kick.
They levelled in the 19th minute when Aiden McGeady floated a long free kick over from the left and St Leger at the far post got ahead of Vedran Corluka to head the equaliser.
Image: Ireland's Sean St Ledger celebrates with teammate Kevin Doyle (right) after scoring the equaliser against Croatia
Photographs: Petr Josek Snr / Reuters
In-form Jelavic drives one past Given
The game then became bogged down in midfield with technically-limited Ireland struggling to play the ball out of defence and Croatia also looking disjointed.
But, with playmaker Luka Modric coming to life, Croatian began to play more thoughtful football and looked more threatening.
Ivan Perisic had a powerful drive parried by Given and volleyed wide again from just outside the area before they regained the lead with more Irish help.Modric's low pass hit two Irish defenders on its way through the defence and landed at the feet of in-form striker Jelavic who diverted it past Given.
Image: Croatia's Nikica Jelavic celebrates after scoring against Ireland
Ireland were outplayed in the second half too
Croatia started the second half in the same way they began the first, an excellent build-up ending with Perisic crossing the ball into the area.
Mandzukic met it with a header, the ball hit the post and ricocheted against the hapless Given and into the net.
Ireland fought on but the task looked too much for them and they must now beat at least one of Spain or Italy to have any chance of progressing.
Image: Ireland fans sit dejected in the stands after their team's defeat to Croatia
Photographs: Kacper Pempel / Reuters