Ireland and Spain. Same religion, similar economic trouble, but completely disparate soccer styles. These teams do have some major tournament history. They met in the first knockout round at the 2002 World Cup, with Spain advancing after a 1-1 draw on penalties.
Spain unveiled a 4-6-0 against Italy or, more accurately, a 4-3-3 fronted by midfielders. Cesc Fabregas was the “false nine” or “Messi” dropping deep and, hopefully, bringing a defender with him, leaving space for David Silva or Iniesta to run in behind. Italy started three central defenders and kept them back. Spain could play in between the lines, but had no width to stretch them, no height to go over the top and no direct shooter. But for the one goal, it was 90 minutes of deflected shots and blocked off final balls. The strategy failed. Spain will move back to a 4-5-1 for this match, with Fernando Torres up front.
Ireland may be the least talented team in Poland/Ukraine. The Irish have spirit, but they must win through tactical discipline and execution. Against Croatia, they showed neither. Brainless mistakes plagued them. Shay Given was either shocking or entirely unfit. They will try to “pull a Chelsea” against Spain, though even a flawless effort may not earn the win they need.
[Photo via Getty]