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The Chelsea striker netted a goal in each half for the defending European champions in a comfortable 4-0 win over Ireland, but a quarter-final place is still not guaranteed

 Ben Hayward
 Spain Expert Follow on

ANALYSIS


His expression was solemn and serious. With 20 minutes left in the Group C game between Spain and Ireland, Fernando Torres stared serenely from the bench. He had been here before, but this time it was different. This time, his heroics had helped Spain to an important victory. His return was triumphant; the part he played pivotal.

All the talk since Sunday had been about nines, be it false, true, orthodox or otherwise. But Spain only have one No.9 shirt - and it belongs to Torres. On this evidence, it will do for some time, too.

The 28-year-old began brilliantly, instinctively latching on to a loose ball in the fourth minute and blasting an unstoppable drive through the fingers of Shay Given. He had a point to prove. And on a wet pitch, against a physical but limited Ireland back line, Torres was in his element.

Further chances came and went. There was a square pass when a lob could have made it 2-0, some questionable decision making in the final third and a careless offside as the second half got under way. But this looked much more like the Torres of old and much less like the man who scored just six Premier League goals in 2011-12.

 Peter Staunton
 Ireland Expert
From the manner in which Giovanni Trapattoni set up his team to the way that his gameplan was executed, this was a low point in the history of Irish football.

A midfield of any three players will out-pass a midfield of any two. When you put Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi in that triangle then there is no hope for the likes of Whelan and Andrews.

There are very few positives to be taken from an Irish perspective. Andrews was probably man of the match in green owing to his workrate and tidy distribution but he was one alone against a relentless red machine.

Goals at the beginning of each half, rudimentary concession from set-pieces and goalkeeping errors, this Ireland performance was one tragicomedy after another.

Ireland, at the best of times, cannot compete with teams more adept at keeping the ball. This was a lesson in what happens when you give the ball away. Make no mistake, Spain are a championship team but Ireland should have made it more difficult. Average players shown up on the biggest of international stages.

It's no surprise that some of them play second-tier football and some others don't even have a club. It shows.
Spain seem to make a habit of dominating games without truly taking advantage. The World Cup was a prime example of that as Vicente del Bosque's side controlled all of their games, but failed to win any by more than two goals and negotiated their last four fixtures with a 1-0 scoreline.

Something similar seemed likely against Ireland as for all their dominance, Spain held just a one-goal advantage at the break. But David Silva changed that soon after the interval with a superb improvised finish into the bottom corner after digging the ball from under his feet and placing it perfectly past Shay Given. And then Torres raced clear to make it 3-0 before departing to a rousing reception from the Spain support, the same fans who had slated him just days earlier for missing two late opportunities against Italy.

With his first of the night, Torres took his tally to 29 goals for La Roja, equalling the total set by former Spain skipper Fernando Hierro. And with his second, he reached 30 to move to third outright on the list of La Roja's all-time top goalscorers. In front of him now sit just Raul (44) and David Villa (51).

Villa is, of course, a key absence for Spain in Poland and Ukraine, but on this evidence, Del Bosque's men can cope without him.

As Torres went off, somewhat subdued at being denied the chance of a memorable hat-trick against probably the poorest defence in the continental competition, Cesc Fabregas came on. And the Barcelona midfielder made it four when he cut inside and smashed an impressive angled drive in off the post before letting off steam and tangible tension with his clenched-fist celebration.

Cesc did not look amused, presumably after losing his place in the side and receiving his fair share of criticism following the Italy draw, despite netting his side's only goal of the game in the false-nine experiment on Sunday.

Back on the bench, Torres appeared far from happy either. But there is hunger there and that creates a welcome problem for Del Bosque, particularly as Spain have yet to seal their place in the last eight of the competition.

Spain's win leaves them in pole position in Group C, but defeat against Croatia will see them eliminated if Italy beat Ireland.

Maximum concentration is still needed, then, but Spain stepped up as they needed to on Thursday - and so did Fernando Torres. Together, they should go far, but one more tough test remains before they can dream of a third title in a row.

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