Spain's bid to become the first
team to win three successive major international titles began in
unconvincing fashion after Italy repelled Iberian flair with
Latin artistry to earn a 1-1 draw at Euro 2012 on Sunday.
With both sides probably happy to emerge with a point apiece
from their Group C opener, Croatia then boosted their hopes of
challenging for a quarter-final place by beating Ireland 3-1 in
the Polish city of Poznan.
Spain, the clear tournament favourites after mesmerising
opponents to become European champions in 2008 and then world
champions two years ago, saw their run of 14 straight wins in
competitive matches end in their heavyweight clash in Gdansk.
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas soon quietened Italian celebrations
after substitute Antonio Di Natale's goal on the hour, hammering
in a 64th minute equaliser, but it failed to spark Spain into
They struggled to get into gear as a vibrant and
well-organised Italy, showing they can never be discounted when
major tournaments come around after successive defeats in three
warm-up friendlies, mixed resolute defence with moments of
Despite dominating possession and having almost double the
number of goal attempts, Spain lacked a knockout punch.
Vicente del Bosque faced questions as to why he started
without a striker and left Fernando Torres kicking his heels on
the bench for three quarters of the game, but the coach took
umbrage with the pitch, rather than his team.
"A pitch that is so dry does not do football or the
spectators many favours," he told a news conference.
"If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have been
better for both teams and a better match."
Del Bosque will hardly panic at failing to make a winning
start. Spain were stunned 1-0 by Switzerland in their 2010 World
Cup opener before going on to win the trophy for the first time.
Italy, fielding a three-man defence well marshalled by
Daniele De Rossi, who was switched from his usual midfield role,
were good value for their opening point.
It comes as a huge boost to coach Cesare Prandelli who will
take satisfaction from what proved to be an astute substitution,
Di Natale finishing clinically from Andrea Pirlo's pass just
minutes after replacing the ineffective Mario Balotelli.
Croatia made a flying start to their campaign after an
off-balance Mario Mandzukic headed Slaven Bilic's side ahead
after three minutes.
Sean St. Ledger headed Ireland level in the 19th but Croatia
regained the lead three minutes before the break when Nikica
Jelavic prodded past goalkeeper Shay Given.
Ireland were rocked again at the start of the second half
when Mandzukic's header hit the post and ricocheted against the
hapless Given's head and into the net.
Croatia could be in trouble after their fans celebrated
their second goal by letting off firecrackers and flares.
Earlier, Croatian fans threw chairs, bottles and flares at
Polish riot police before the game with three people arrested
after the incident in Poznan's old town square.
Fourteen fans were also detained in the western Polish city
on Saturday night after police broke up a fight.
There was also minor trouble in Wroclaw with two Russia fans
issued with a ban on taking part in mass events after they were
detained before Russia's match with the Czech Republic on
Russia's football federation urged their fans in Poland to
behave after some threw fireworks and displayed illicit banners
during the Group A game.
UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings on Sunday against the
German (DFB) and Portuguese (FPF) Football Associations
following the Group B match a day earlier in Lviv which Germany
The European governing body charged the DFB after German
fans threw what appeared to be rolled up pieces of paper at
Portuguese players on several occasions in the first half.
UEFA said Portugal faced proceedings for a "delayed kick-off
to the second-half".
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