Thursday continued what's been a fantastic tournament overall, with a tightly-contested first match and a fairly easy romp for the defending champions in the nightcap. Nearly every match to this point has been eminently entertaining---those that have lacked for goals have made up for it with a mostly watchable pace of play, even from the sides that you wouldn't normally expect to provide entertainment. Tomorrow sees the other host nation back in action, and the host nation in all of our hearts tasked with actually trying to play football in order to place themselves in pole position to advance to the knockout stages.
Italy 1, Croatia 1
ITA: Pirlo 39′
CRO: Mandžukić 72′
Italy's one of the aforementioned sides that you likely weren't expecting to put on a show, but for the most part on Thursday they were locked in an enjoyable encounter with Croatia. They were the far better side in the opening, and while they should have conceded earlier in the half as Nikica Jevalic missed the type of chance he's buried so often in the past few months, five minutes before the break Italy had the lead through Andrea Pirlo. A silly Croatian foul on the edge of the area put Pirlo in a very dangerous position, and from twenty-odd yards he managed to get it up and over wall, leaving Stipe Pletikosa no chance at the near post. It was vintage stuff from Pirlo, who's continued his revived form of the past season into the summer. Slaven Bilic's squad turned it around in the second half and got their goal through Mario Mandžukić, who blasted past Gianluigi Buffon for the equalizer. The draw leaves Italy third in Group C, but with Croatia set to face Spain next, they've a very real chance to finding their way through with a win over Ireland.
Spain 4, Ireland 0
ESP: Torres 4' 70', Silva 49', Fabregas 83'
All the fun on the pitch in this one came on the Spanish side of things, as they mostly had their way with an overmatched and toothless Ireland. The first team knocked out had plenty fun of their own as well, although in their case it was mostly had by their supporters, who sang and celebrated their way through a match that was effectively over within five minutes. Fernando Torres pounced on a loose ball just inside the Irish penalty area and took a touch into space before beating Shay Given straight-on for the opener, and just after the half David Silva rolled it past Given after flooring Sean St. Ledger with a decent fake. Torres wasn't done yet, putting Spain three-up after being played into space by Silva near midfield, and Cesc Fabregas, who'd replaced Torres with a quarter of an hour to play, capped the victory with a well-struck effort from a tight angle. They're not free and clear yet, and Croatia will likely put up a very good fight, but right now you'd have to say Vicente del Bosque's side are the favorites to finish top of Group C.
For today’s matches:
Ukraine v. France
5:00PM BST/12:00PM EST
The first round win for the Ukraine turned out to be one of the stories of the tournament to this point---Andriy Shevchenko scored two goals in ten minutes after Sweden had taken the lead, and that proved to be the difference in a wide-open affair. There's little reason to think this one will be any different in terms of style, as France did most of the trying to win type stuff against England and Ukraine have little to lose by taking the match to the opposition in front of their home support. Yann M'Vila should be back for the French, probably replacing the not entirely ineffective Alou Diarra, and the Ukraine will likely once again rely on their hero and the freshly-shorn Andriy Voronin(!), who was very good against the Swedes.
Sweden v. England
7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST
England's second match holds the promise that they'll be more attacking given their need for points and the change in opposition, but with Roy Hodgson in charge there's not much to guarantee that England will produce anything close to the action we've seen over the past few days. Hodgson's a man content to react, even with the supposed level of attacking talent in his squad, and with much of the pre-match focus on fitness and fatigue, it would be far too optimistic to expect things to be too much different from the draw with France.
Sweden did their part against the Ukraine, though, and while it wasn't always pretty and they ended up bottom of the group at the end of the day, they'll have confidence ahead of today's kickoff. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is there, Liverpool supporters' spring lust object from Rasmus Elm will be involved, and, perhaps most importantly, Olof Mellberg's beard will be taking part. The rest of him might not be as helpful given what we saw against the Ukraine, but they'll need everything they've got in what could very well be an elimination game.
Johnson Terry Lescott Cole
Walcott Gerrard Parker Downing
The only difference in an England side that has Andy Carroll is that they might have a chance to win a few of the lumps forward, and they'll be slightly less dynamic than with Danny Welbeck in the squad. But whether it's Carroll or Welbeck or the beaver pelt sleeping on Wayne Rooney's head, there needs to be more positivity for Hodgson and England. It didn't come from Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker last time out, and while they might be given more license to get forward, it'll largely to down to the wide men and whoever's selected up top, with the odd jaunt forward from Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.
Best case scenario, at least for those watching, is that Sweden nick an early goal and force England into action. Depending on the other result, and even though they were thrilled with a famous draw against France, this is very much a must-win for Roy Hodgson and England.
We'll be back later with a recap of the England match, and around throughout the day to discuss the action here and over on Twitter. And, unlikely as it may be, we'll also be sure to run anything more explicitly Liverpool-related if it happens. But it's not going to.
For now, enjoy one of the goals of the tournament from Andrea Pirlo: