Spain coach Vicente del Bosque admitted the defending champions were not at their best despite beating Croatia 1-0 in Gdansk to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 on Monday as Group C winners.
“The team played well, even though things didn’t go according to plan,” said Del Bosque, who started but then took off Fernando Torres for Jesus Navas of Seville, who promptly bundled in the only goal of a somewhat shapeless match which could have gone either way. The World Cup winners topped the group with seven points after their opening draw with Italy and 4-0 rout of Ireland, Slaven Bilic’s Croatia bowed out with four points after Italy leapfrogged the Croats with a 2-0 win over Ireland.
“There was a lack of clarity compared with other occasions. The truth is it was not a great game overall and this should concern us. We were fighting for a victory, not a draw, and we have taken a step forward here by qualifying, this is motivation for the quarter-finals. We didn’t have many clear-cut chances, which is also to their credit.”
Meanwhile, Croatia was in a sorrowful state but praised the squad’s play against the defending champions.
Thousands of people, many of whom dressed in Croatia’s red and white chequered national colours, watched the match broadcast live on a giant screen in the capital Zagreb, with a lot of emotions.
Bonucci admits to Balotelli controversy fears
Mario Balotelli came off the bench to score the clinching second goal in Italy’s 2-0 win over Ireland and open his account at the Euros but the lasting image of his moment in the limelight was not the athleticism with which he hooked a volley over his shoulder and past Shay Given. It was his reaction to the goal.
Far from expressing joy at his contribution to the victory, the errant and temperamental talent seemed angry and started to shout something in the general direction of his own bench. Showing the political nous of a seasoned government spin doctor Leonardo Bonucci immediately grabbed the controversial 21-year-old in a celebratory hug and thrust his hand over Balotelli’s mouth.
“What he said he said in English and I didn’t understand it,” said the Juventus centre-back, who like Balotelli had come on as a substitute. “I put my hand in front because Mario is instinctive and that’s also his strength. We’d spoken with him before the game and he knew how he should behave.”
Trapattoni expects Italy to go far at Euros
Veteran Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni said he expects his fellow Italians to go a ‘long way’.
But having overcome a tricky group phase – in which their qualification was in the balance after they drew 1-1 with both Spain and Croatia, needing a favour from the holders to make the knock-out rounds – Italy will be confident.
“Without a doubt qualification gives confidence, Italy have already got past Croatia,” said Trapattoni. “They know their own qualities and strengths. They’re technical, although we’re not used to talking about fantasy or the creativity of the players. But Italy have a very precise technical base and they don’t let many passes go astray.”
Published In The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.
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