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Ireland-Spain Preview

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO

STATS Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The colour green will be a prominent focus for Spain in their second Group C match of the European Championship.

Whether it's the Republic of Ireland or the field in Gdansk, Poland might be the worry.

Coming off a disappointing draw to open Euro 2012, Spain looks to re-establish itself as the heavy tournament favourite Thursday when it faces a desperate Ireland team.

Spain entered Euro 2012 looking for an unprecedented third consecutive title in a major international competition, but that journey got a little more bumpy following Sunday's 1-1 draw with Italy.

The Spanish, lauded for their offensive-minded, possession play, struggled against the Italians early and needed a goal from Cesc Fabregas in the second half to earn a point in Group C, which also includes Ireland and Croatia.

"Being the favourite now is complicated, but in the end we found the character," Fabregas said.

While Italy caused problems for Spain, apparently so did the field.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque as well as star players Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez all complained about the turf at PGE Arena being too dry, which affected the defending champions' passing game.

No official complaint has been filed, and Spain may need to adapt to the supposed dry field since Gdansk is the site for all three of its matches in group play.

The field may be the least of its worries with the attack trying to overcome the absence of David Villa, the country's all-time leading scorer who at the top of the scoring chart at both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. Villa and defender Carles Puyol are out for the tournament with injuries.

Without Villa against Italy, del Bosque fielded a team that didn't feature a true forward, and it's unclear if he'll make changes against Ireland.

Del Bosque has options in Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo. However, Torres struggled when used as a substitute in the final 16 minutes Thursday, sending his only shot over the bar.

That could mean a chance for Negredo or Llorente, who has been bothered by some lower body injuries following a long club season with Athletic Bilbao. He helped the club to two cup finals with 29 goals in all competitions.

Negredo had 14 goals in 28 games for Sevilla in La Liga.

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni feels he has the right plan to deal with Spain, and it'll need to be sound after the Irish fell 3-1 to Croatia on Sunday. A loss to the Spanish would guarantee Ireland a tournament exit after the group stage.

"We know their technique, we know their quality," Trapattoni said of Spain. "I have an idea (how to cope against them), but I couldn't say this or this or this.

"Spain is a team with self-confidence. We know it will be important for us not to concede them space because they play two-touch, easy, easy. They have good quality."

While a defensive approach is expected from Trapattoni's tactics, Ireland could use some offensive production from Robbie Keane, who didn't manage a shot against the Croatians. Fellow forward Kevin Doyle wasn't much better, mustering merely one.

Still, Ireland's chances of staving off elimination from Euro 2012 will be up to the defence and midfield, and Trapattoni may have learned something after the Italians limited space by clogging the midfield in an unorthodox 3-5-2 formation.

Shay Given will also need to be on top of his game, as the 36-year-old goalkeeper is expected to be busy again. He faced 14 shots - eight on goal - against Croatia while conceding three goals for the first time since a 3-2 loss to Russia in October 2010 during qualifying.

Given was in goal opposite Iker Casillas the last time Ireland faced Spain in the first knockout stage of the 2002 World Cup. Casillas and Spain came out on top, winning on penalties after Keane forced extra time and the tiebreaker by converting a spot kick in the 90th minute.

Updated June 12, 2012

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