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Croatia top Group C after first game

Spain and Italy are equal on points after their opening Group C games.

Croatian fans celebrate at the Euro 2012. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP
Ukraine,Italy,Euro 2012,Poland,Spain soccer team,European Championship,Croatia
Sport


WARSAW - Spain's bid to become the first team to win three successive major international titles began in unconvincing fashion after Italy repelled Iberian flair with Latin artistry to earn a 1-1 draw at Euro 2012 on Sunday.

With both sides probably happy to emerge with a point each from their Group C opener, Croatia then boosted their hopes of challenging for a quarter-final place by beating Ireland 3-1 in the Polish city of Poznan.

Spain, the clear tournament favourites after mesmerising opponents to become European champions in 2008 and then world champions two years ago, saw their run of 14 straight wins in competitive matches end in their heavyweight clash in Gdansk.

Midfielder Cesc Fabregas soon quietened Italian celebrations after substitute Antonio Di Natale's goal on the hour, hammering in an equaliser which failed to spark Spain into life.

They struggled to get into gear as a vibrant and well-organised Italy, showing they can never be discounted when major tournaments come around after successive defeats in three warm-up friendlies, mixed resolute defence with moments of flair.

Despite dominating possession and having almost double the number of goal attempts, Spain lacked a knockout punch.

Vicente del Bosque faced questions as to why he started without a striker and left Fernando Torres kicking his heels on the bench for three quarters of the game, but the coach took umbrage with the pitch, rather than his team.

"A pitch that is so dry does not do football or the spectators many favours," he told a news conference.

"If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have been better for both teams and a better match."

Del Bosque will hardly panic at failing to make a winning start. Spain were stunned 1-0 by Switzerland in their 2010 World Cup opener before going on to win the trophy for the first time.

Italy, fielding a three-man defence well marshalled by Daniele De Rossi, who was switched from his usual midfield role, were good value for their opening point.

HUGE BOOST

It comes as a huge boost to coach Cesare Prandelli who will take satisfaction from what proved to be an astute substitution, Di Natale finishing clinically from Andrea Pirlo's pass just minutes after replacing the ineffective Mario Balotelli.

Croatia made a flying start to their campaign after an off-balance Mario Mandzukic headed Slaven Bilic's side ahead after three minutes.

Sean St. Ledger headed Ireland level in the 19th but Croatia regained the lead three minutes before the break when Nikica Jelavic prodded past goalkeeper Shay Given.

Ireland were rocked again at the start of the second half when Mandzukic's header hit the post and ricocheted against the hapless Given's head and into the net.

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