It was a mixed night for the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 Group C opponents as Croatia and Italy were beaten at home while Spain eased to victory over Venezuela.
Croatia, who Giovanni Trapattoni’s men face in their Euro 2012 opener in Poznan on June 10, crashed to a 3-1 home defeat to a Sweden side who Ireland will face in the qualifying stages for the 2014 World Cup finals.
A Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty put Sweden ahead after 13 minutes and, although Slaven Bilic’s men equalised just before half-time through a Jonas Olsson own goal, Erik Hamren’s side claimed a notable victory thanks to a second-half brace from Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson.
Trapattoni’s spies may have noted with interest how the Swedes, who fielded an adventurous 4-3-3 formation with Johan Elmander and Ola Toivonen operating on the flanks either side of Ibrahimovic, created all sorts of problems for the hosts.
Croatia’s back four looked in trouble every time the visitors went forward while their midfield looked bereft of ideas and the strikers lacked bite.
Italy, who Ireland play in their final Group C game on June 18, also went down to a home defeat last night.
Cesare Prandelli’s men lost 1-0 to the USA in Genoa with Fulham’s in-form midfielder Clint Dempsey getting the only goal 10 minutes into the second-half.
The Azzurri had numerous chances to equalise but were denied by some good goalkeeping from Everton’s Tim Howard.
The Americans, who had failed to beat Italy in their previous 10 attempts, claimed their fourth straight win under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, while Italy suffered their second straight loss after defeat against Uruguay in November.
The home side were without injured strikers Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi, while Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli and Roma striker Daniel Osvaldo were omitted after breaching Prandelli’s code of conduct due to recent indiscipline with their clubs.
And after Italy dominated the first half the Americans took a surprise lead early in the second when Jozy Altidore superbly controlled Fabian Johnson’s cross from the left and set up Dempsey, who made no mistake from 10 yards.
The defeats of Croatia and Italy will provide encouragement to Trapattoni ahead of the finals but the Italian got a timely reminder of the scale of the task facing his side in Poland as reigning European and World champions Spain hammered Venezuela 5-0 in Malaga.
Valencia striker Roberto Soldado, making his first international appearance since 2007, came off the bench to score a second half hat-trick after first half goals from Andres Iniesta and Manchester City playmaker David Silva in the 37th and 40th minutes respectively.
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