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As it happened: Spain eliminate Ireland; Italy pushed to third

Spain v Italy - Group C: UEFA EURO 2012

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10: Andres Iniesta of Spain with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

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Thursday’s Euro 2012 slate kicks off with Group C’s pivot game, with Italy and Croatia potentially deciding who will join Spain in the quarterfinals. Of course, Spain is not actually there. They have to take care of business against Ireland in what could be on of the most lopsided matches of the tournament ... and even if they do (win, that is), their knockout round spot won’t be clinched. Clearly, we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves.

When Italy-Croatia kicks off at noon Eastern, we’ll pass group stage’s halfway mark. With 12 games down, two of the pre-tournament favorites (Germany, Spain) have stayed on course, one (Netherlands) have donned a life preserver, while a fourth team (Italy) can make its case as a real contender today. A convincing performance against Croatia on the back of their draw with Spain will make us believers.

But first, your daily pre-match reading list:

And now that you’re through skipping over the bullets, here’s Thursday’s action:

(All times Eastern)

1635 - Ireland 0-4 Spain, Final - That was unfortunately predictable. Spain were just too quick, too precise, and too relentless, and it translated to the scoresheet. Spain goes top of the group on goal difference and likely only need a draw against Croatia to win the group.

1620 - Ireland 0-4 Spain - This is sad. Short corner leads to Fabregas dribbling to the right of goal before turning from a sharp angle to power it past Given into the far side netting. This is the type of match I was imagining when I said it could be the most lopsided of the tournament, but I didn’t really think it would happen.

1615 - Ireland 0-3 Spain - Torres gets his curtain call. Cesc Fabregas comes on in what would be a turning point game for Torres. Moments later, Iker Casillas is forced into a save on Robbie Keane.

Spain has 65 of the possession and is outshooting Ireland 23 to 6. Shots on target is 18 to 4.

James McClean’s about to come on.

1612 - Ireland 0-3 Spain - We hinted it could happen pre-game, and it’s come to fruition. Andres Iniesta wins a ball in midfield, David Silva’s there to touch it through the Irish line to Torres, who has 30 yards to set up Shay Given. Finishing into the right of goal. Fernando Torres has his brace.

1608 - Ireland 0-2 Spain Xabi Alonso is off. Javi Martinez is one. Spain’s sense of urgency has waned, and Ireland’s had a few forays forward. Spain’s possession is at 64 percent. They’re outshooting Ireland 22 to 5.

1557 - Ireland 0-2 Spain - A diving punch from a Xavi shot sees Shay Given keep Ireland within two. Spain’s at 63 percent possession and a 19-4 shots edge. They look like they want to pile on some goals, possibly with tiebreaker scenarios in mind.

1550 - Ireland 0-2 Spain - Another goal to open a half, and another one which is a little pathetic. Iniesta is given a ball in the left of area. He puts it on goal, and Dunne punches it right to David Silva at the penalty spot. He take two, three, four touches without a challenge, the defenders frozen in front of him. Finally, a picks out a spot - the lower left hand corner - opens his left foot onto a ball that goes between two sets of legs and beats Shay Given.

1547 - Ireland 0-1 Spain - We’re back, and Ireland has made one change. Jon Walters is on. Simon Cox is off.

1519 - Ireland 0-1 Spain, Halftime - Spain hogged the ball. Possession at 62 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat, though for now, it’s halftime.

Other numbers: Shots: 14-4, Spain. Shots on target: 10-2, Spain.

It’s only a one goal game, though. Freakiness still in play.

1519 - Ireland 0-1 Spain - Spain hogging ball. Possession at 63 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Passes are 255-93 in favor of Spain. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1511 - Ireland 0-1 Spain - Spain hogging ball. Possession at 61 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1500 - Ireland 0-1 Spain - UEFA claims Spain have only held 57 percent of the possession. That can’t be correct. This game is looking like it could end 1-0 with Spain holding 80 percent of the possession.

1449 - Ireland 0-1 Spain - He did it! Fernando Torres takes the ball off Richard Dunne’s foot and blasts it right over Shay Given for an earlier opener, and Shay Given probably should have saved that. It has a blast from 10 yards out, but it was high over Given’s head. He just needed to get a hand up.

Andres Iniesta plays a great ball for David Silva after some high pressure from Glenn Whelan allows Iniesta space behind him. Silva’s tackled by Richard Dunne how is far too slow clearing the ball. Torres comes in from behind touches it away, with his next touch finding nylon.

1446 - Ireland 0-0 Spain - We have started. Ireland is in green going from left to right. La Roja is in ... well, roja.

1436 - We’re just under 10 minutes from kick off. Here are the lineups, each with one prominent change:

Ireland: Given, St Ledger, Ward, O’Shea, Dunne, Whelan, McGeady, Andrews, Duff, Keane, Cox SUBS: Westwood, Forde, Kelly, McShane, O’Dea, Gibson, Hunt, Green, McClean, Doyle, Walters, Long.

Simon Cox is in. Ireland’s best player on Monday, Kevin Doyle, is off. Giovanni Trapattoni: Contrarian. Mad scientist.

Spain: Casillas, Piqué, Ramos, Arbeloa, Alba, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Busquets, Silva, Torres SUBS: Valdés, Reina, Albiol, Martínez, Juanfran, Fàbregas, Cazorla, Navas, Pedro Rodríguez, Negredo, Mata, Llorente.

Fernando Torres is in. If I say the obvious, that this is a terrible decision in light of other options, I either stand to be proven very wrong (he really could score twice today yet still not really be that good) or he’ll stink and I’m not saying anything new. I’ll just say I feel for Fernando Llorent, Alvaro Negredo, Pedro Rodríguez, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla ... and Pepe Reina.

Let’s be honest: Spain’s winning in spite of Vicente del Bosque, at this point. The double pivot? The chaos at striker? The inhibiting allegiances to old guard players?

1431 - Here’s our Offshore drilling on the day’s first match.

The worst: Ireland is such a good matchup for Spain that they’ll probably win 3-0 and give people the impression Del Bosque pushed the right buttons.

I need to calm down.

Lineups coming soon.

1353 - Italy 1-1 Croatia -The final whistle goes, and teams each take one. Croatia hits on four ahead of Monday’s meeting with Spain, while Italy goes into the Ireland match with two points.

Match report is coming. Go get some lunch.

1347 - Italy 1-1 Croatia - We have five minutes of added time because of the smoke break. Croatia’s lost a bit of their edge. This one looks set to be drawn.

1339 - Italy 1-1 Croatia - Eduardo is on. Nikica Jelavic is off. Antonio Cassano is off. Sebastian Giovinco is on. Croatia is still controlling this match.

1331 - Italy 1-1 Croatia - Stay classy, Croatia fans. Flares/smoke bomb on set off create a white cloud in Italy’s end. Play has to stop while the smoke clears.

1329 - Italy 1-1 Croatia - Mario Mandzukic has had a poor game, but for strikers, goals cure all, especially when they’re late equalizers. With his third goal of the tournament, the Wolfsburg attacker has brought Croatia even.

Danijel Prajnic plays a ball left to Ivan Strinic and makes an overlapping run that pulls Christian Maggio away. It gives Strinic room to cross far post, where Giorgio Chiellini has misjudged the flight of the ball. It floats over his head and onto the right foot of Mandzukic, who has time to bring the ball down and bang it home.

It’s a disappointing goal for Italy to allow, but as much as they had allowed Croatia to take the game to them in the second half, they were asking for something like that to happen.

1324 - Italy 1-0 Croatia - Slaven Bilic makes his first chance, bringing on Danijel Pranjic for Iven Perisic. Italy has already made a move, bringing off Thiago Motta, whose head bounced off the turf, for Ricardo Montolivo. Italy’s not made what looks like will be a regular substitution: Toto Di Natale for Mario Balotelli, who has been mostly good but also showed some poor decision-making.

Most of this half has been played in Italy’s half. They’ve been unable to break out on counters, meaning Cassano’s been a non-factor.

1311 - Italy 1-0 Croatia - The Croats have come out strong, putting a number of shots toward Gianluigi Buffon, though none have seriously troubled him (and few have actually required his intervention). Modric is attacking more than distributing, but he still can get anything out of Jelavic of Mandzukic. The game’s paused now as a firework/flare is thrown onto the field. Croatian plays go over to plead that their supporters cease being idiots.

1301 - Italy 1-0 Croatia - We are back, and as good as Italy were in the first half, Croatia is one cross, one beat defender, one header away from canceling out a first half were they were second best.

1250 - Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime - Pre-game we talked about this being Italy’s chance to assert themselves as real contenders. They absolutely are playing to that level. Andrea Pirlo has been great - possibly asserting himself as the tournament’s best player, to this point. The combination of him an Antonio Cassano form a great, creative center to the club.

The stats: Possession: Italy 11-3; Shots: Italy 11-3; Shots on target: Italy 6-3.

1247 - Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime - Intermission, and Italy goes in deserved leaders. While there were spells where it seemed Croatia was building something, there was never a point where you felt them the better team. By the end of the half Italy was in firm control of the game.

1239 - Italy 1-0 Croatia - The best attacking spell of the match ends with a great Pirlo strike from left of goal, giving Italy the lead.

One minute before, Italy pushes for a goal that only some Stipe Pletikosa heroics keep out. A Pirlo ball for Cassano sees Cassano find Claudio Marchisio in the left channel with a brilliant ball. A nice touch set him up for a shot that’s remarkably blocked by Pletikosa. The rebound goes to Marchisio, who sees another shot blocked, but on the clearance, Croatia gives up a foul.

From two yards outside the area, just above the left corner of the penalty area, Pirlo gets a ball up and over the wall, beating a valiant effort from Pletikosa, putting Italy in front.

1233 - Italy 0-0 Croatia - The play’s been a little more event than the second 10 minutes, but just past the 30 minute-mark, Italy is still creating the better chances. The greatest danger comes when they can get the ball to Cassano in transition, but when that doesn’t happen Pirlo is still doing a good job of moving the ball around. They haven’t been holding enough of the ball to get Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio forward much, but when they do (as they did a few minutes ago), it creates nervy moments for Croatia.

1222 - Italy 0-0 Croatia - For the first time, we see Croatia putting together the passes they’ll need to use to get in and out of that Italy defense. They end up putting a cross in from the left that sees Nikica Jelavic and Giorgio Chiellini are tangled, and a foul’s given on Croatia. On the restart Croatia regains possession and quickly comes back down the right, with Darijo Srna putting a dangerous ball near post. Nobody getson it, and Gianluigi Buffon swallows it up.

1216 - Italy 0-0 Croatia - Mario Balotelli’s movement is terrorizing Vedran Corluka, who again looks terrible. Both Cassano and Pirlo have been able to find him quite easily. Croatia, going forward, look contained. In defense, they seem like they’re just hoping Italy doesn’t execute.

1201 - Italy 0-0 Croatia - We are underway. Italy’s in blue, moving left to right. Croatia is in white.

1158 - Teams are shaking hands. We’re minutes away from kickoff.

1127 - Today’s lineups:

Croatia: Pletikosa, Strinić, Ćorluka, Schildenfeld, Rakitić, Vukojević, Modrić, Srna, Perišić, Jelavić, Mandžukić SUBS: Kelava, Subašić, Šimunić, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjić, Badelj, Dujmović, Kranjčar, Kalinić, Eduardo.

Italy: Buffon, Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Motta, Marchisio, Giaccherini, De Rossi, Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano SUBS: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco.

Croatia is unchanged, and it Italy, despite days of speculation Cesare Prandelli would make up to three moves. If Prandelli’s willing lie to us about a piddling soccer lineup, what else is he willing to do?

I feel so used.

My picks today (I don’t think I’ve gotten a pick right yet): Italy 3-1 Croatia, and Spain 4-0 Ireland. That seems wild ... maybe I’m getting punchy.
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