Ireland are now out of the European Championships. Defeat against Spain was always likely, but the margin of 4 goals has surprised some, despite the boys in green shipping 3 against Croatia. In truth, Ireland were always likely to be found out come the tournament. Most of their players are second division in terms of quality, and the better ones are past their best. Richard Dunne against Iniesta is always going to look like an encounter between a bull and a matador, and we know how that usually turns out.
Ireland's record in qualifying is a little misleading. The heroic goalless draw in Moscow is cited as the key game, but in fact it was close victories over Armenia (1-0 and 2-1) that secured the qualifying spot. Not only were the matches generally tight (they only managed an aggregate 5-1 over two games against Andorra), but you need to factor in the state of the pitch, which has often been Ireland's 12th man. The Spanish complained about the Gdansk pitch after their draw with Italy, and while I don't know if any action was taken, the surface looked a lot slicker last night, hence the repeated slips by Irish players. The pitch in Poznan against Croatia also looked decent.
Ireland did well to qualify. The fans knew that and enjoyed the craic while it lasted. Next time they really ought to invest in a sack of moles and smuggle them in under their leprechaun hats. The 2014 World Cup qualifying group looks a shoe-in for Germany, leaving Ireland to struggle with Sweden and Austria for a play-off place. Should they squeak through, they'll be forced to play on a close-mown pitch under the Brazilian sun. About as far from a wet cow field as you can get.
Thoughts now turn to the new Ireland, i.e. England. The word-up is that Andy Carroll is going to lead the attack, though the rumour that he'll be dressed as a crusader carrying a battering ram is probably wide of the mark. Given how poor the Swedish defence looked against the famously slow Shevchencko, I have a feeling that Roy's back-to-basics plan may actually work. The key will be the quality of the crosses. Who knows, Stewart Downing may get his first assist of the season.
On the Arsenal front, it occurred to me watching Germany the other night that Podolski may have been signed as the new Ljungberg. Though he's been quiet so far, he covers a lot of ground and looks to make the diagonal runs into the box that were the trademark of the occasionally red-haired Swede. RvP's ability to pick out a pass in the area is well known, so the German may be earmarked for a wide berth on the left. Now we just need a new Ray Parlour.