Football: Spain, Italy Through, as Group C Concludes
Gdansk, Poland. Defending champions Spain on Monday beat Croatia 1-0, ending Balkan dreams of a Euro 2012 knock-out berth, as Italy ran out 2-0 winners against the Republic of Ireland to qualify in second spot in Group C.
Vicente Del Bosque and Slaven Bilic’s sides were goalless in Gdansk at half-time in a lackluster affair from which Spain only needed a draw to top the group and go through.
But with Italy leading in the other game, top spot for La Roja looked uncertain until substitute Jesus Navas linked up with Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta and the Sevilla man crashed the ball into an empty net as the Croatian defence looked on.
There was more than the suspicion of offside in both men’s runs into the box but the Croatian appeal about the 88th-minute goal was to no avail.
In Poznan, western Poland, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland were beaten by two goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
The Italians — who trailed both Spain and Croatia by two points going into the game with the Irish having already being eliminated after two defeats — took the lead in the 35th minute with a Cassano header from a corner.
But Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given will be disappointed after he spooned away what seemed like a straightforward shot to give away the set-piece kick in the first place.
Given, however, could do little about Italy’s second goal, with Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli holding off John O’Shea on another corner to volley home from the six yard line on the stroke of full-time.
Group winners Spain now play the runners-up of Group D in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, while runners-up Italy take on the winners of Group D in Kiev on Sunday.
Spain’s Del Bosque said they would take on all-comers.
“We have no preference whether it is France, England or Ukraine, we have to be ready to take whatever comes,” he said.
The last quarter-final qualifiers will be decided on Tuesday, when Ukraine take on England in Donetsk and France play Sweden in Group D. Every team except Sweden can still qualify.
UEFA meanwhile banned Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for one match and fined him 100,000 euros (80,000 pounds $126,000) for flashing the sponsored waistband of his underpants while celebrating a goal during his side’s 3-2 defeat to Portugal.
The suspension means he will miss Denmark’s first 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Bendtner can appeal but the online betting firm whose name appeared on his underpants said the decision was “hysterical and deeply cynical” while the fine was more severe than those handed out to football federations for more serious incidents.
UEFA president Michel Platini elsewhere condemned Croatia fans who racially abused Balotelli in their group match last week, revealing that he had previously warned football’s authorities there about the problem.
A ruling on the case — the first for racism at Euro 2012 — is expected on Tuesday, with Croatia’s football federation facing a possible stiff penalty after up to 500 fans were reported to have taunted Balotelli throughout the match.
Platini told reporters in Warsaw that he was “not happy” about the situation and said that he had warned the federation about the problem of racist fans when he visited last year.
“They (Croatia) have a good team which plays well but it’s unacceptable when you’ve got a hundred or so arseholes among the crowd,” he said. “They (the Croatian federation) knew (that it could happen).”
Croatia, however, looked set for fresh sanctions as Monday’s match referee Wolfgang Stark had to briefly halt the match when flares were thrown and smoke billowed over the pitch.