The comfortable 3-1 defeat to Croatia in the opening game of Ireland's Euro 2012 campaign was a shock to some in Ireland. Inside 3 minutes of our first international championship in 10 years, we were brought back to reality with one dodgy header that trickled in. On an RTE poll, 86% of those who text in thought we would actually beat the Croatian's (a team who are currently ranked 8th in the FIFA rankings). Excuses were made, but the stone cold truth is that we're just not that good and Croatia, despite not being all that much better, could do the basics better and took advantage of our slack defending to punish us.
The current world and defending Euro champions Spain present us with an even greater threat, but more importantly with a surprising opportunity. Depending on which Spain turns up; the one that wants to play some football or the one that wants to have a whine and a moan, there are two possible outcomes. The first is; the Spain that has won all the major international tournaments turn up and we are thought a footballing lesson, where only a miracle of biblical proportions could defend us from being destroyed by a potent Spanish attack. Not being unfair to the players who are representing us; but players like Stephen Ward and Stephen St. Ledger (who has done terrific and scored a great goal against Croatia) who has had limited football time at his club Leicester City (not even a Premier League team) is worrying and up against the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas. In the game against Croatia, we saw Ireland giving the opposition too much space and if that trend continues against the Spain, it could very well be a long night.
The second (and slightly less likely event) is that we get at the Spanish back four. In our favour, the Spanish defence is far from solid and there is definitely room to get amongst them and give them some hassle and put them under pressure. Seasoned veterans like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff are good enough to keep the Spanish defence busy and carve out a few chances. But these chances will be few and far between as Spain will no doubt have the majority of possession and will dominate from the off. A possibility and likely to happen will see us crowd the midfield and have two banks of 4 in front of every Spanish move and then attempt the counter. Glenn Whealan and Keith Andrews will have to have extraordinary games and have utmost discipline to keep them at bay. And possibly if the Spanish grow frustrated and their fans start getting on their backs, who knows? As seen in the Champions League this season, the best footballing teams don't necessarily mean victory. Even at that, as remarkable and astonishing it would be to see Ireland get a result against Spain, going by what we have seen in the first game, it is not all that likely of happening. But we can still all dream. Fingers crossed.