Here’s what happened on Monday on Matchday 4 of UEFA Euro 2016 in France, in case you missed it…
• Match report: Spain 1, Czech Republic 0 in Toulouse || Match stats
• Match report: Ireland 1, Sweden 1 in Saint-Denis || Match stats
• Match report: Belgium 0, Italy 2 in Lyon || Match stats
THOUGHTS ON THE DAY
Spain’s resolve sees them through: You have to hand it to Spain—the European champions don’t get flustered and their self-belief remains unflappable even in the most difficult situations. For 86 minutes in Toulouse, the Spanish were all over the Czech Republic, out-passing their opponents by a wide margin and dominating possession. But Petr Cech made some solid saves, and the Czech defence held firm to thwart the Spanish. Lady Luck was also not smiling upon the Spanish, as deflections inside the box didn’t go their way. Spain didn’t panic or change things up, though. As always, La Roja stayed true to their tactical identity, and didn’t go to Plan B, remaining confident that they could pick the lock on the Czech defence. Eventually they did. The mercurial Andres Iniesta—who put in a master-class on the day; easily the best individual performance of the tournament thus far—delivered a delicious ball deep into the box for teammate Gerard Pique to nod home in the 87th minute. It capped off a brilliant display by Iniesta who, at 32, has many doubters. Suggestion that he’s lost a step or isn’t as influential as he once was looked pretty foolish after this display. Spain and Iniesta’s resolve saw them through this tough challenge. “If you keep insisting with this intensity, the goal will come. We have to continue like this,” Spain defender Sergio Ramos said after the game. That’s the Spanish way.
Ireland returns to Saint-Denis: The last time Ireland played at the Stade de France it was a hand that did them in—Thierry Henry’s handled the ball in the buildup to a French goal that eliminated the Irish from World Cup 2010 contention. On Monday at the very same venue in Saint-Denis it was Ciaran Clark’s head that cost the Irish—Clark’s attempted defensive clearance resulted in an own-goal that allowed Sweden to earn a 1-1 draw, a score line that rather flattered Zlatan Ibrahimvoic and his cohorts. Ireland had chances to put this away, only to be thwarted by the crossbar (Jeff Hendrick’s shot hit it) and captain John O’Shea not being a few inches taller (he couldn’t get onto a Clark flick deep into the box off a corner with the Swedish goal at his mercy). Still, Ireland will take positives away from this match, having neutralized Ibrahimovic for long stretches, and boosting their confidence by playing without fear and taking a valuable point off Sweden.
Italy silences doubters—for now: Where will the goals going to come from? That was the lingering question posed by many fans and pundits about an Italian side they considered the worst to ever grace a major tournament in 30 years. With Graziano Pelle and Eder leading the line, the worry was that the Azzurri lacked creativity and inspiration up front, and would struggle to score in France. But the Italians effectively used their defensive solidity as the foundation for a tactical game plan that worked to perfection and ended it a fantastic 2-0 win over Belgium, with two maligned players supplying the goals: Pelle and Emanuele Giaccherini. For all of its attacking talent on the pitch—including Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne—this Belgian side, ranked No. 2 in the world and touted as a team enjoying a Golden Generation, was exposed by Italy’s brilliant back line of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini. Textbook doesn’t even begin to describe how the Italians defended on this night. Bonucci was outstanding, not only reading the game and cutting off danger with timely tackles and interceptions, but also carrying the ball out from the back and pinging a 50-yard pass for Giaccherini to latch onto and slot home. The Azzurri did an absolute number on Hazard, rendering him totally ineffective. While Italy did ride its luck at times—Lukaku and Divock Origi both missed chances they’d love to have back—the defence did a marvelous job of keeping the game in front of them, and were rarely beaten for pace or by a ball played over the top. As a result, Gianluigi Buffon had a quiet night, and was only called upon to make one tricky save, and that came early on. Pelle’s goal off the counter-attack deep into injury time sealed the win for Italy, and silenced their doubters—for the moment.
MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.
• Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Latest news
• Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history
• Sportsnet’s predictions || 10 players to watch || 5 key group stage games
• Feature stories || Soccer Central podcast || Team roster lists ||
GOAL OF THE DAY
In the 87th minute, Andres Iniesta delivered a teasing, inch-perfect cross to the back post, putting it on a plate for Gerard Pique to nod home.
— Upper 90 Soccer (@u90soccer) June 13, 2016
SAVE OF THE DAY
In the 28th minute, Spain worked the ball forward with Andres Iniesta finding Alvaro Morata inside the box. The Juventus forward fired on goal, only to be thwarted by Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, who got down low to turn it around the post.
— EL MUNDO Deportes (@ElMundoDeportes) June 13, 2016
MATCH OF THE DAY
Ireland and Sweden played out an entertaining contest before a rocking crowd at Saint-Denis. Wes Hoolahan’s strike was marvellous, and seemed to awaken Sweden. The only thing missing was a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Domination. There’s no other word for it.
— Stats Zone (@StatsZone) June 13, 2016
BEST MOMENT OF THE DAY
Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz earned his seventh cap and made his European Championship debut at the age of 35.
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 13, 2016
HE SAID IT
“What a pass. What quality Iniesta has.” – Gerard Pique
TWEET OF THE DAY
— Eoghan Doherty (@dohertyeoghan) June 13, 2016
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Spain is now unbeaten in 13 games at the European Championship since losing to Portugal in 2004.
• Andres Iniesta is the only Spanish player to earn an assist in three different Euro tournaments.
• Only the Netherlands (three times) have profited from more own goals at the European Championship than Sweden (twice).
• Ireland has failed to win at the European Championship (two draws and four losses) since their tournament debut when they beat England in 1988.
• Italy has kept more clean sheets (17) at the European Championship than any other team in the competition’s history.
• Graziano Pelle has six goals for Italy under Antonio Conte, more than any other player
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Andres Iniesta, Spain: Easily the best player on the pitch in La Roja’s win over the Czechs. Masterful in possession and in his distribution, he set up Gerard Pique’s winner with a fantastic ball into the box.
2) Leonardo Bonucci, Italy: As much as Iniesta put on a master-class performance in midfield, Bonucci did the same in defence. He also set up the opening goal with a world-class pass from 50 yards out.
3) Wes Hoolahan, Ireland: He scored that fabulous goal against Sweden, but also provided Ireland with a touch of class in midfield and proved to be dangerous attacking threat.
TOURNAMENT SO FAR
•Matchday 1 recap: Magnificent Payet rescues France || Typical Giroud performance
•Matchday 2 recap: England gets what it deserves || Bale already proving his worth for Wales
•Matchday 3 recap: Modric pure magic for Croatia || Germany’s Goetze not a false 9
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