Another slow start cost Republic of Ireland dear against Spain, who never looked back after opening the scoring four minutes in and swept to a 4-0 victory that eliminates Giovanni Trapattoni's men from Euro 2012 with a game to spare. Fernando Torres announced his arrival in the competition with a goal in each half, sandwiched between a coolly taken David Silva goal and topped off with a Cesc Fabregas strike. Here, we look at the key talking points from yet another miserable night for Ireland.
In Spain's opening game against Italy, Vicente del Bosque's 6-4-0 formation failed to impress after his side could only manage a draw, coming back from a goal down. Chance after chance went begging, with the Spaniards lacking the all-important finish. Del Bosque rejigged his line-up to meet the Irish, introducing Fernando Torres up front at the expense of Cesc Fabregas, who scored Spain's only goal against Italy. The Chelsea striker wasted little time in proving to the coach why he should not be left on the bench, smashing a right-footed shot past the helpless Shay Given after four minutes to provide the end product that was absent against the Azzurri. He then strengthened his case to retain his starting spot when he added another with 20 minutes to go, suggesting we will not be seeing Del Bosque's striker-less experiment imprinted on any more of his starting line-ups.
Giovanni Trapattoni sets his Ireland side out to be solid and tough to beat, recognising that defence is their greatest strength. By keeping it tight at the back, Ireland can then begin to build on that platform with sporadic forays into the opposition half. However, in both halves of both their group matches at Euro 2012 they conceded a goal within five minutes, meaning they had to abandon their favoured formation and mentality with the match still in its infancy. It was a tough enough challenge against Croatia and Spain anyway without giving them a goal start. Ireland's slow openings have cost them dear in Poland and Ukraine.
The precise-passing Spaniards dominated possession and Ireland did not help themselves by repeatedly giving the ball away cheaply whenever they got a rare look-in. Several Irish players were guilty of panicking when finding themselves in possession and hoofing it blindly up field - inevitably straight back to a Spanish player. Robbie Keane fed on scraps all game, invariably struggling with high balls punted in his vague direction. The result was the ball taking on a boomerang quality and always finding its way back into the Irish half, playing right into their opponents' hands.
Given's star on the wane?
Shay Given has been a tremendous goalkeeper for club and country for well over a decade, but he had a particularly poor night against Spain. He failed to react to Torres' rising drive for the opener which, although hit with power, was straight at the 36-year-old. He was even more culpable for the second goal, pushing Andreas Iniesta's shot meekly out towards Silva, who tricked three defenders before finding the bottom corner. Given came into this tournament suffering from a series of niggling injuries and although he declared himself fully fit, you do wonder whether age is finally catching up with the experienced shot-stopper.
In a tournament that has been dominated by fan misbehaviour, culminating in those disturbing scenes from Warsaw on Tuesday, it was a refreshing sight to see both the Ireland and Spain fans sitting amongst each other with no hint of malice or trouble. Together they produced a rousing atmosphere for both sets of players, even once the result had been put beyond doubt, and provided the sorts of sights and sounds we want in the rest of the tournament.
Spain's incredible ability to retain the ball is well known, but their capacity to out-pass the opposition scaled new heights in Gdansk. Midfielders Xavi and Xabi Alonso completed 106 passes (excluding crosses) in the first half, two more than the entire Ireland team put together. By the final whistle the Spanish side had completed an incredible 859 passes, more than by any team in any European Championship match in history.
The impudent skills of David Silva are well known to Premier League fans following his mesmerising displays for Manchester City over the past two years. But the 26-year-old showed what he can do on the international stage with a superbly taken second, leaving three Ireland defenders flapping to get a block in, before coolly tucking the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. Composure personified from the former Valencia man, who also set up two goals for his team-mates.
The Spanish midfield maestro is fast establishing himself as a contender for player of the tournament. After a man-of-the-match winning display against the Italians, he was no less effective on Thursday night, proving a constant threat at the heart of his side. The stats spoke for themselves, with the Barcelona man travelling an astonishing 9.2km and completing 83 passes with a pass accuracy of 87 per cent during his 79 minutes on the pitch. Iniesta is quite simply wonderful to watch, boasting skill, accuracy and an unwavering work-rate, while moments like his deft backheel flick to Silva in the first half blend seamlessly into Spain's aesthetic style.