Fernando Torres had two goals as Spain routed Ireland 4-0 to move into a tie atop Group C at the European soccer championship with Croatia, which rallied to draw 1-1 against Italy.
David Silva and Cesc Fabregas also scored last night in defending champion Spain’s win in Gdansk, Poland. Mario Mandzukic’s 72nd-minute score earned Croatia the point with Italy in Poznan.
Spain and Croatia have four points ahead of their meeting in the final round of group matches on June 18. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals.
“After two matches this is a really good situation,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said on UEFA’s website. “Six points would have been better, but this is pretty good.”
Italy has two points and Ireland, which was eliminated by its second straight loss, has none. They meet in the final game, with the Italians still in contention to advance.
Today, co-host Ukraine plays France in Donetsk and England meets Sweden in Kiev in the second round of games in Group D.
In Gdansk, Torres scored twice in his return to the lineup after starting on the bench for the 1-1 draw with Italy as manager Vicente del Bosque elected to play the opening game without a recognized striker.
“You have to enjoy every moment,” Torres said on UEFA’s website. “I had the luck to start the match and score goals and enjoy it with the team.”
Spain dominated with 66 percent of possession and had 26 shot attempts, 20 on target, compared to six for Ireland, which becomes the first team eliminated from the 16-team tournament.
“For the vast majority we were chasing shadows,” Irish midfielder Keith Andrews told ITV. “We just couldn’t get near them.”
Torres needed four minutes to put Spain in front as he picked up the loose ball after Richard Dunne’s tackle on Silva at the edge of the area, moved to his right and fired a shot by goalkeeper Shay Given.
Given also made saves against Silva, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Alvaro Arbeloa to keep the Irish within a goal at halftime.
Silva doubled the lead four minutes after the break as he got the rebound after Given saved Torres’s shot and slid a left-footed effort through three defenders into the net.
Torres added his second goal in the 70th minute as he took a pass from Silva between two defenders and slotted past Given. Fabregas replaced Torres in the 74th minute and closed the scoring nine minutes later by powering a shot past Given after a short corner kick.
In Poznan, Mandzukic’s goal wiped out a first-half score from Andrea Pirlo. It was the striker’s third goal to tie Germany’s Mario Gomez and Russia’s Alan Dzagoev for the tournament lead.
“We can get through,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said on UEFA’s website. “We are mathematically still in it, but we have missed an opportunity here.”
Italy controlled play early as Mario Balotelli took a pass from Emanuele Giaccherini, turned near the penalty spot and shot wide of goal after three minutes. Claudio Marchisio fired over goal and Balotelli’s shot was punched away by Stipe Pletikosa.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon went down to grab Darijo Srna’s cross at the near post and also caught Ivan Perisic’s header.
Antonio Cassano and Balotelli shot wide and Pletikosa then made two saves off Marchisio after the midfielder turned Srna in the area. Italy took the lead in the 39th minute when Pirlo curled a free kick between Pletikosa and the near post.
Croatia started quickly in the second half as Luka Modric forced a save from Buffon in the opening minute, then sent a shot over goal. Balotelli also shot over from just outside the area after finding space.
Croatia drew even with 18 minutes remaining as Ivan Strinic lofted a cross from the left for Mandzukic, who knocked it down and fired a shot in off the right post.