You could hear the Irish fans singing clearly and harmoniously “The Fields of Athenry” but as things went – unfortunately it was only that very famous Irish tune that kept spirits alive during Ireland’s match against Spain and despite the heart of the Irish it wasn’t enough to alter the final outcome.
Fernando Torres scored twice as the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 dreams came to an end with a 4-0 defeat to Spain in Gdansk, Poland.
Ireland’s final group game against Italy on Monday will be for pride, as they will not progress from the group.
Torres put Spain ahead after four minutes when he nicked the ball from Richard Dunne, skipped past Stephen Ward and smashed a shot over Shay Given.
Ireland worked flat out but chased shadows for most of the first half as Spain passed the ball at will.
Given saved twice from Iniesta, as well as Xavi and Arbeloa, to keep it respectable at the break.
A weak punch by Given gave David Silva the chance to double the lead and he teased Sean St Ledger, Ward and Dunne before rolling the ball in.
The keeper did better soon after to pull off a stunning save to keep out Xavi’s shot.
Torres grabbed his second when he raced on to Silva’s through ball and slotted past Given before Cesc Fabregas thumped in a fourth off the post late on.
EURO Group C
Pos. Team Pts. Pld.
1 Spain 4 2
2 Croatia 4 2
3 Italy 2 2
4 Ireland 0 2
Spain will head into Monday night’s showdown with Croatia with top spot in the group at stake, while Giovanni Trapattoni’s men will have only pride to play for when they face Italy, who need to win to progress, in Poznan.
Ireland had gone four games unbeaten before they arrived in Poland, but have tasted comprehensive defeats in both the fixtures they have played in their first trip to major finals in a decade.
The sound of Europe’s The Final Countdown thundering from the stadium’s PA system 15 minutes before kick-off seemed prophetic at the time, and as Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca brought an end to the opening 45 minutes, the Republic’s hopes of extending their stay in Poland and Ukraine were hanging by a thread.
They ran out knowing they needed to avoid defeat to have any chance of reaching the last eight, and that an unlikely win would give them a real chance with Italy and Croatia having drawn earlier.
However, just as they had done against the Croatians in Poznan on Sunday evening, Trapattoni’s men found themselves behind barely before they had broken sweat, and the source of the damage was entirely predictable.
Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque had outraged his critics by lining up against the Italians without a recognised striker.
Trapattoni had predicted he would not do the same tonight and would restore Torres to the starting line-up, and the Chelsea front man needed just four minutes to make his mark.
Silva’s fleet-footed burst into the penalty area prompted Dunne to make a desperate and successful sliding challenge, but the ball dropped nicely for Torres to round full-back Ward and smash a right-foot shot from a tight angle high past goalkeeper Given and into the roof of the net.
It was the last thing Ireland needed, although it came after Simon Cox, preferred to Kevin Doyle in a 4-5-1 formation, had tested Iker Casillas with a second-minute drive from distance.
But Irish forays into enemy territory were to prove a rare occurrence as Spain, not unsurprisingly, dominated the middle of the field to lay siege to Given’s goal.
The Aston Villa keeper was peppered from distance as Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi laid the foundation for Silva, Iniesta and Torres to go about their business.
Given, who had already got down well to claim an effort from Silva, had to beat away a pile driver from Iniesta and in a flurry as the half-time whistle approached, blocked full-back Arbeloa’s skidding attempt with his legs and tipped another stinging strike from Iniesta over his bar.
By contrast, Robbie Keane, who had worked tirelessly in an attempt to give his side an out-ball, was starved of meaningful possession and found himself chasing a series of lost causes.
Whether Trapattoni felt his decision to use Cox had worked or not, he abandoned the experiment at the break to send on the more physical Jon Walters.
But the game was effectively over within four costly minutes as Spain once again flexed their muscles at the start of the second half.
Given had already repelled another effort from Arbeloa – he and fellow full-back Jordi Alba were effectively playing as wingers – when the keeper’s attempt to keep out Iniesta’s powerfully-struck shot dropped to the feet of Silva.
The Manchester City midfielder still had plenty to do, but he tip-toed his way through the wreckage of the Irish defence before slotting the ball calmly into the bottom corner.
Given produced a stunning one-handed save to deny Xavi with 55 minutes gone, but would have been picking the ball out of his net once again seven minutes later had Busquets managed to bend his shot only marginally more.
But further damage was inflicted with 20 minutes remaining when Torres once again ran clear of a static defence to fire expertly past Given and finally kill off hopes of a fight-back.
Torres departed to rapturous applause from his compatriots with 18 minutes remaining as Fabregas took his place with Spain already looking towards Monday night.
There was an equally warm welcome for James McClean when he was handed a second cap and a first competitive appearance as 76th-minute substitute, but Ireland’s woes increased seven minutes from time when Fabregas blasted home a fourth as Trapattoni’s men slept at a corner.