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Spain's passing dazzles in 4-0 win over Ireland
By PAUL LOGOTHETIS
GDANSK, Poland (AP) Spain's dazzling ball control, dizzying passing game and deluge of shots were way too much for Ireland.
Fernando Torres scored a goal in each half, and David Silva and substitute Cesc Fabregas added the others as Spain beat Ireland 4-0 and eliminated the Irish from the European Championship with its most lopsided loss in 41 years.
Spain, which leads Group C along with Croatia with four points, dominated the tempo and scoring opportunities through its quick combinations and precise passing. The defending champions completed an incredible 779 passes and took 26 shots - 20 of them on goal - in a performance that put it on course for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Torres, who scored in the Euro 2008 final, put Spain ahead early after dispossessing Richard Dunne inside the area and scurrying past Stephen Ward before sending an angled shot over goalkeeper Shay Given in the fourth minute.
Torres started over Fabregas as the world champions reverted to fielding a traditional striker after the attack was led by six midfielders against Italy. The Chelsea striker showed that a late season turnaround was no fluke as he became Spain's third all-time leading scorer with 30 goals in 95 appearances.
"We wanted to win, to make a better impression than we did against Italy," said Torres, whose team completed three times as many passes as the Irish. "From the first minute we showed the character to win."
Torres' first goal marked the start of Spain's assault on the Irish, who had started well with Simon Cox forcing Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas into a tricky save in the second minute.
"Unfortunately the goal for the second time after three minutes throws your tactical plan out the window," said Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, whose team also conceded early in a 3-1 loss to Croatia.
But Spain's combination passing got better, leaving Ireland in a constant chase. Spain midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso exploited every crack through the middle with pinpoint passes that were either spoiled by poor finishing, blocked shots or saves.
"For the vast majority of time, we were chasing shadows," Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews said.
Silva was a continuous threat inside the area before finally converting early in the second half. The Manchester City forward gathered the ball inside the area in the 49th before showing some patience by rolling a left-footed shot around two defenders and through Dunne's legs and out of the reach of Given.
Given still made clutch stops on shots from Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Alonso, who pushed forward alongside fullbacks Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba as Spain looked for goals.
"They are the best side I've ever played against and probably the best side I will ever play against," Ireland defender Sean St. Ledger said.
While Ireland enjoyed a brief spell of chances in the second half, with Casillas stretching to save a shot from Robbie Keane in the 75th, it was Torres who ran on to Silva's pass and held off Dunne's pressure to shoot around Given in the 70th.
"That why we put him on, to do what he did today, to score goals," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "It was an exemplary game for us in many senses. We played a very complete game.
Fabregas, who scored against Italy while playing in an unlikely attacking role, received Silva's corner at the near side and sent a shot off the inside of the far post to complete the rout in the 83rd.
Ireland will play its final match against Italy, which has two points and needs of a victory to advance to the quarterfinals. Spain can advance with a draw against Croatia on Monday.
"To go out looking for a draw would be very dangerous," Del Bosque said.
Spain: Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Alvaro Arbeloa; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso (Javi Martinez, 65), Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta (Santi Cazorla, 80), David Silva; Fernando Torres (Cesc Fabregas, 74).
Ireland: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger, Stephen Ward; Damien Duff (James McClean, 76) Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan (Paul Green, 80), Aiden McGeady; Simon Cox (Jon , Robbie Keane.
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP
Updated June 14, 2012