Ireland are a massive 16/1 to win this – a quote which, on the basis of their opening performance against Croatia, might be a bit stingy. Their announced plan before the game was to defend doggedly and frustrate the opposition. What they actually did was let them score repeatedly and, on one occasion, provide a peach of an assist. Now they face Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and the rest of Spain’s tiny, heavily eyebrowed midfield artists.
It’s the pre-tournament favourites and defending champions against a team who were rank outsiders even before they disappointed everyone in their first match. Goliath’s dad against David’s smaller, weaker brother.
TORRES RETURNS: In Spain’s opening match against Italy, Vicente del Bosque couldn’t bring himself to pick either of his striking Fernandos: the almost supernaturally out-of-form Torres or the unlucky Llorente, who is in form but doesn’t fit into the tippy-tappy system the national side plays. Now an injury to Cesc Fabregas means Torres starts. If he’s ever going to score a goal again, it’ll be tonight.
COX UP: Ireland have also made a change that could weaken the team, but Giovanni Trapattoni has done it voluntarily. Despite a substitute appearance against Croatia that seemed to take the concept of “struggling at this level” to a whole new level, Simon Cox is in for Kevin Doyle, whose persistent falling over wins the free kicks that seem to be Ireland’s best chance of scoring. It’s a bold, some would say baffling, move from the wily old Italian.
PREDICTION: It’s all about Torres. He’s bound to get scores of chances and could feasibly score six, or he could carry on having some sort of sporting nervous breakdown and get none. We’ll split the difference and say 3-0 to Spain.