In a wet and blustery Gdansk, Ireland were outclassed. Spain exerted utter dominance and superiority in every department of the field, in every part of character, in every single way imaginable. Many will point to the splendid explosion of Fernando Torres, back to something akin to his scintillating best with two impeccable goals, as the reasoning for defeat. Others will illuminate Spain's general superiority and class. However, the Republic of Ireland, even endowed with a fervent support from the stands, were defeated before the game even began, with Giovanni Trapattoni, in essence, eliminating any hope of even a fighting chance.
For the Republic of Ireland to even conceive of playing a 4-4-2 formation against Spain is, at its very foundation, a naive and absurd concept. Not even in the wildest of biased Eire dreams is such a concept conducive with a mere foothold in the game, let alone any chance of success. In theory, it became evident beforehand that the mediocre midfield pairing of Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan would struggle against the plethora of midfield maestros in Spanish red. What actually transpired was a bloody, wretched and inglorious annihilation of such a weakness. The system malfunctioned more violently on grass than it did on paper.
The most basic and ubiquitous hallmark of this current Spanish team is its immense passing style and ability, especially in midfield. Therefore, this must be forthright in any coaches mind. In order to plot a successful strategy against such a side, a coach must sacrifice certain perks and niceties of the game, and packed the midfield with as many bodies as he can find. What Trapattoni did, however, was select only two! As the game unfolded, such a meagre and ridiculous decision manifested itself in a multifarious case of destruction. In an attacking sense, Ireland were simply ambushed and flustered and overran by the swathes of tightly-pressing Spanish bodies; a frustration which, for large parts of the game, meant that they could only dream of venturing onto the other side of the halfway line. In a defensive sense, Ireland were stupid, really. Despite the noblest of efforts, all the heart in the world and ample effort, Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan are never going to cope with the revolving carousel which harbours Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Xavi and Iniesta. For Trapattoni to even suggest as much by even entertaining a 4-4-2 system is asinine.
Further Irish maladies had their genesis in Trapattoni's outmoded thinking. He deployed, as the striking two, Robbie Keane and Simon Cox. The former, despite being an Irish footballing legend and the all-time scorer in the history of the nation, is simply not what he once was. The latter, despite effort and engagement, is simply not very good. Both, on their day, can produce something special. But, the centric theme is, up against behemoths such as Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, this was never going to be their day. To select them both was foolhardy when, ultimately and terminally, Ireland so desperately craved an addition midfielder.
The Boot Camp environs and atmosphere on which Trapattoni has insisted in Poland & Ukraine also backfired horridly. Training, so arduous and intensive, left the Irish without any energy when it mattered most. The severity of training sessions in the build-up to this game was, for the Irish midfield, truly baffling. It is so explicitly evident that the midfield, when playing Spain, will have to run and chase and hustle and harry and cajole with vigour and energy. The Irish were worn out and fatigued, tired and nauseated within fifty-five Gdansk minutes, with nothing more left in the tank. Trapattoni must take the blame.
As true champions do, Spain took advantage to the maximum. Playing some gorgeous and sumptuous passing football, with the metronomic insistence of Xavi and Iniesta at the heart of it all, they were, at times, breath-taking in victory. Hawking, with cold-veined emphasis, their surplus of midfield volume and class, Spain went for the jugular time and time again. In and around the clumsy feet of Dunne, the streaky feet of Whelan, the tired feet of Andrews, they passed and passed and passed, thrashing their opponents. Set in a tactical mould of stupidity, Ireland did not help their own cause, however. Dunne gifted, on a golden platter, Fernando Torres the chance to emphatically blaze into the roof of weary Shay Give's net. The entire back four was left with twisted blood and an embarrassed flush as David Silva twisted and slithered before threading the ball between two sets of spread legs and into the net. The same back four was conspicuous in its absence for Torres' second, and just absolutely and categorically abysmal for Cesc Fabregas' fourth. In a desperately poor shape, the Irish were terrible anyhow.
Spain's clinical dispatching of a skeletal and frail team leaves them on the brink of bucking a place in the Quarter-Final, and Ireland bucking their flight home. The rigidity and loyalty so classically associated with Trapattoni was, in this Championship, entirely misplaced. The exit of the Irish, however, hinged almost solely on his tactics and system. Irish hopes are, for perhaps another ten years, dead. Etched upon the headstone of this green grave are but two words: Tactical Ignorance.