Reigning world and European champions Spain have started their Euro 2012 campaign with a 1-1 draw against main Group C rivals Italy, while Croatia swept Ireland with few problems, 3-1.
Spain 1-1 Italy
Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque left both Fernando Torres and Fernado Llorente on the bench for the game in the Polish city of Gdansk.
But the decision to play without a center forward didn’t work out for his team in the opening half.
There was plenty of passing from the defending champs, but very few threats to the goal of Italy’s veteran keeper, Gianluigi Buffon.
His Spanish counterpart, Iker Casillas, had a lot more work to do, with a header from Thiago Motta seconds before the break being especially dangerous.
On 56th minute, Antonio Di Natale came in for Mario Balotelli and five minutes later, the Italian substitute gave his team the lead, capitalizing on a great assist by Andrea Pirlo, 1-0.
But Spain needed just three minutes to equalize as Cesc Fabregas responded to David Silva’s through pass and blasted a low shot past the keeper, 1-1.
Torres entered the game on the 74th minute, with the Spanish spear finally getting its pike.
Andres Iniesta and Co. created two one-on-one chances for the tall striker, but he couldn’t find his way past Buffon.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia
The fastest goal of the tournament was scored in Poznan as Mario Mandzukic gave Croatia the lead on the third minute of their game against Ireland.
Sean St. Ledger made 1-1 on the 19th minute, beating Vedran Corluka in the air after the free-kick.
But it was all Ireland managed to achieve as Croatia were simply the better team on the pitch.
Slaven Bilic’s men restored their lead two minutes before the halftime whistle.
Irish defender Stephen Ward sliced the ball into the path of Nikica Jelavic after Luka Modric’s effort, and the forward made no mistake, 2-1.
Soon after the restart, Mandzukic completed his double, catching up with Russia’s Alan Dzagoev as Euro 2012′s top scorer, and settled the final score.
The win propelled Croatia to the first spot in Group C, with Spain and Italy two points behind.
The quartet returns to action on June 14, with the Croats taking on Italy and Spain matching up against Ireland.