SPAIN AND ITALY SHARE SPOILS

Posted on: Mon 11 Jun 2012

Fernando Torres came off the substitutes' bench as Spain's defence of their European crown began with a 1-1 draw against Italy in a repeat of the 2008 quarter-final.

Unsurprisingly, it was a cagey opening to the game, but as the first half wore on both sides went close to opening the scoring.

Giorgio Chiellini headed over for Spain after some neat build-up play by Andres Iniesta, while just before the break Iker Casillas saved well from Thiago Motta.

The game sprung into life in the second half, and after Mario Balotelli had wasted a wonderful opportunity, Italy substitute Antonio Di Natale gave them the lead when he raced on to a clever pass by Andrea Pirlo and finished cooly.

The lead, however, lasted only a matter of minutes, as Spain equalised through Cesc Fabregas when the Barcelona man latched on to a smart pass from his club teammate Iniesta and drove into the bottom corner with a calm left-footed drive.

Torres entered the action in the 73rd minute, replacing the goalscorer, and went close to giving Spain the lead twice in the space of a few minutes. Firstly, he was forced wide by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after being put through down the right-hand side, while shortly after he saw an audacious chip drop inches over the bar. In between, he picked up a yellow card after tangling with Daniele Di Rossi.

Juan Mata, meanwhile, was an unused substitute.

Elsewhere in Group C, it was a disastrous start to the competition for Republic of Ireland, who were beaten 3-1 by Croatia.

Giovanni Trapattoni's men fell behind as early as the 2nd minute, when a Mario Mandzukic header wrong-footed goalkeeper Shay Given to put Slaven Bilic's side in front.

Ireland responded well, however, and they were level in the 19th minute when Sean St Ledger stole in at the far post to head home Aiden McGeady's free-kick.

Croatia restored their advantage right on half-time when Everton striker Nikica Jelavic capitalised on some poor Irish defending to lift the ball over Given, to the fury of the Irish players who wrongly believed the Croatian was in an offside position.

The second half started in much the same vein as the first, when Mandzukic doubled his tally for the evening, rising highest to crash his header in off the post.

The Irish rallied as they attempted to chase the game, with Keith Andrews in particular going close on a couple of occasions, but it wasn't to be, and their campaign doesn't get any easier with current holders Spain up next.