Why Always Me?
Poor, poor Shay Given. Ousted out of the Man City team in 2010 by Roberto Mancini, and yesterday compounded into the top spot for ‘Worst Euro 2012 Goalkeeper’ by his former manager’s fellow countrymen Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
Ireland may have had the plane home booked before the start of the game with Italy, but they certainly started the brightest in an open start to the match, and even nearly took the lead after nine seconds through Kevin Doyle. A 1-0 victory for Ireland would have matched the nation’s efforts 18 years ago, when Jack Charlton’s side downed Italy at World Cup 1994 in the Giants Stadium. A more poignant reminder of the day lay on the black armbands worn by the Irish side to mark the 18th anniversary of the shootings of six men in Loughinisland, County Down. A victory for Ireland would therefore have certainly been the greatest way for the players to pay their respect.
Italy needed to win, however, and after Ireland’s brief dalliance in the Italian penalty area, it was the Azzurri’s turn to pressurise. Prandelli’s side still looked lacklustre in defence though, and the flowing Irish movement through the centre of the park continually failed to put together the final killer ball into the path of either Kevin Doyle or Robbie Keane.
By the thirtieth minute mark, Ireland were finally showing their pragmatic defensive style, and continually stifled both Cassano and Di Natale. In their first two games, they had gone behind within five minutes to both Croatia and Spain, but Italy were finding it increasingly difficult to breach Given’s goal.
That was until the 36th minute. For on the 36th minute, Ireland conceded their eighth goal of Euro 2012.
Italy could have gone ahead just a few moments before, but Sean St. Ledger blocked a Di Natale effort on the line, after the Udinese striker rounded Given. Soon after, Given conceded a corner which Andrea Pirlo took; a corner which Cassano struck with his head and a corner which the Irish keeper failed to stop.
Ireland were 1-0 down and could easily have sunk without a trace. But they didn’t.
They got to half-time with the score at 0-1, hardly a travesty of a result for the less-fancied Irish.
The second half began in almost the same fashion as the first half ended; Italy were playing as if scared of conceding, and Ireland playing with the freedom that they needed in their opening match against Croatia. The Italians had the best share of the play, and continually tested Given and the rest of the Irish defence, including the ever impressive St. Ledger.
The game petered out through the majority of the second half with both sides seemingly content with the result. Italy were top of Group C and going through, whilst Ireland had only conceded one goal.
Cesare Prandelli soon took off Cassano and Di Natale and brought on the dynamic Alessandro Diamanti and Mario Balotelli; if anything, this move could be seen to spice up what was becoming a dour encounter. However, Italy still were not safe. A goal for both Croatia and Spain would have seen them knocked out and this seemed to have rattled Prandelli and forced his hand.
In the 78th minute, Keith Andrews almost ruined Prandelli’s plans with a stinging shot from an indirect free kick, but the effort was thwarted by a fantastic reflex safe from Buffon. Ten minutes later and finally there was another goal, but it wasn’t for either the Italians or the Irish. The goal came for Spain and it knocked Italy off the top spot in Group C. One goal from Croatia and the Italian dream would be over, another Euro dream ended.
The Euro dream was over for Ireland though, and Keith Andrews made sure that he would be first on the plane home after the former Blackburn Rovers and MK Dons man was sent off for a second bookable offence.
If the sending off wasn’t enough to stir up the fans, then the next piece of action would be. We were finally treated to a sublimely struck second goal in the 90th minute of the match, and what a fantastic finish it was from Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli. The hooked finish from another Pirlo assist set up another flurry of chances as Italy went for a third goal to seal their place in the quarter-finals.
Unfortunately, this never came for Prandelli’s side, and they had a nervous wait for the Croatia-Spain game to finish. Croatia didn’t score, so Italy defiantly remained in the competition.
The result was fair on both sides, and it’s great to see Italy move through the group stages of a major international competition; Ireland, however, are left to pick up the pieces of a failed campaign, and for once, it’s Shay Given and not Mario Balotelli who was left asking the question, ‘Why Always Me?’