Spain playmaker David Silva has warned his team-mates about the threat the Republic of Ireland pose to their Euro 2012 hopes and singled out Robbie Keane as a danger man.
The Manchester City flyer, who scored in Spain’s 5-0 demolition of Venezuela on Wednesday night, has faced most of the Ireland team in Premier League action, and is well-placed to tell the Spain-based players not to underestimate Giovanni Trapattoni’s team.
“Ireland did really well in qualifying, and they scored in almost every match,” Silva said. “The team has a lot of personality, it’s strong, strong-willed, also unpredictable and with intelligent changes of pace. They are a team that never surrenders and Ireland also has an attacking spirit.”
Record goalscorer Keane may be the most recognisable threat to the Spanish but Silva warned that it’s not just the LA Galaxy forward that could hamper his side’s hopes of becoming the first team to win three major tournaments in a row.
“Of course Keane is their key player, but the whole team is very consistent. Most of them play in the Premier League and do very well there.
“Keane sometimes pops up in midfield to help out, and the likes of John O’Shea and Shay Given are solid professionals who have very good reputations. They have a well-organised team that no-one should under-estimate.
“We are looking forward to the match against Ireland. We face Italy first and then it’s the Irish. It will be a special match and a nice challenge for me because I know, from the Premier League, what kind of game these players are capable of. Ireland can undoubtedly have a big say at Euro 2012.
“Our group at Euro 2012 is a tough one and will be a challenge for us. Every match will be like a final, and we’ll have to be in top shape. But we feel confident about our chances. At present we are playing well and feel happy about it, because the pressure on us is big and because Euro 2012 is almost around the corner.”
Spain confirmed their status as favourites on Wednesday by brushing aside Venezuela, but it was the manner of their performance that was astonishing. Roberto Soldado came off the bench at half-time and scored a second-half hat-trick, his second goal culminating a 37-pass move. “We would like to score more beautiful goals like that one,” he added. “The atmosphere in the team is just great and it shows on the pitch: no fuss, just tempo and team spirit.
“We are all looking forward to the tournament. First we have to finish the club season, but you start getting itchy feet: we want to do well and I hope to be a part of it. There’s a fierce though fair fight for the spots in the starting eleven and everybody wants to play and grab their chance. I hope I can play well enough to be involved.”
Meanwhile Croatia boss Slaven Bilic tore into his players after losing 3-1 at home to Sweden in front of a near-empty Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.
“We were far from the standard required to beat a modern team like Sweden and this defeat is the logical consequence of that,” said Bilic. “The crucial thing was the freedom that [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic had. I told the players that he must not receive the ball between our defence and midfield, but when he gets it, we must stop the players arriving from deeper positions. He had it far too easy.”
There were only 8,000 fans watching the game as the crisis currently sweeping Croatian football — with illegal betting scandals, players not being paid, and numerous clubs on the brink of collapsing — has driven people away. “It saddens me that the attendance was so low, I hope that will change. The full stadium gives the team the necessary lift to give 100%,” Bilic added.
Final Group C rivals Italy lost 1-0 at home to USA, their second successive defeat and fourth friendly loss under coach Cesare Prandelli but the manager is not worried.
“We only lose friendlies and it will definitely be like that in the future,” he said. “With 100 days before the Euros, I am not worried. With this spirit we’ll have a great Euro 2012.”
The Italian press were not so relaxed, even though Prandelli’s Italy remains unbeaten in competitive matches.
Under the headline ‘Little Italy’ an editorial in Gazzetta dello Sport begged Mario Balotelli, who was dropped from the squad as punishment for his red card against Spurs to make his peace with the coach. Without injured pair Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi too, Italy looked lightweight up front and failed to score for a second game running.
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