Defending champion Spain sealed top spot in Group C by beating Croatia 1-0 with a late goal by substitute Jesus Navas. Croatia’s football association faces a UEFA charge on Tuesday over its fans’ racist abuse of Italy forward Mario Balotelli last week.
Elaborate Spanish possession play failed to create many scoring chances in Gdansk, despite the World Cup winners knowing a 1-0 loss would mean a ticket home.
Spain’s passage was confirmed when Navas, who replaced Fernando Torres, struck in the 88th, tapping into an empty net from a pass by Andres Iniesta after the pair had broken the offside trap.
Antonio Cassano continued his impressive recovery from minor heart surgery in midseason to score with a header from a 35th-minute corner, glancing in a header at the near post that had too much pace on it for goalkeeper Shay Given to keep out.
Ireland showed attacking intent after appearing overwhelmed in previous losses, but midfielder Keith Andrews was sent off for collecting a second yellow card in the 89th.
One minute later, Balotelli scored by hooking a volleyed shot over his left shoulder.
“I couldn’t wait for them to blow the whistle in the other game and for it to finish,” Cassano said. “The victory was something we suffered for but the most important thing was to get through the group.”
The UEFA chief earlier told reporters that the atmosphere in Euro 2012 stadiums had been “99 percent great” with “nice people, except some Croatians.”
Croat fans throwing fireworks also delayed two matches in Poland, while others burned a European Union flag and paraded posters of a convicted war criminal in Poznan city center.
After Bendtner’s underwear stunt last week, UEFA’s disciplinary panel banned him for one 2014 World Cup qualifying match. UEFA also fined the striker $126,000 for breaking ambush marketing rules in his team’s 3-2 loss against Portugal.