- Associated Press - Thursday, June 14, 2012

WARSAW, Poland — Two goals from rejuvenated forward Fernando Torres helped Spain knock Ireland out of the European Championship on Thursday, and Italy drew 1-1 with Croatia to leave Group C finely balanced.

Torres was recalled to replace Cesc Fabregas up front and scored in the fourth and 70th minutes as Spain outclassed Ireland to win 4-0 in Gdansk, Poland.

However, the defending champion still can be eliminated depending on results in the final group games Monday.

Spain stamped its authority on Euro 2012 after seeming unsettled in a 1-1 draw with a lively Italian side in its first match.

“We wanted to win, to make a better impression than we did against Italy,” said Torres, who became Spain’s third leading scorer with 30 goals in 95 appearances. “The performance of the team was really good. It was great.” Torres started over Fabregas as the World Cup champions fielded a traditional striker after the attack was led by six midfielders against the Italians.

The goal was 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 only 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.

After Torres lashed in his first goal, the familiar Spanish short-passing style was quickly established and Ireland struggled to see much of the ball.

“With the early goal, everything was easier and the performance of the team was great tonight,” Torres said.

David Silva got a second goal in the 49th, and Fabregas fired a fourth in the 83rd after coming on for Torres.

The final whistle blew on Ireland’s Euro 2012 hopes with the stadium resounding to its fans signing “The Fields of Athenry.”

Spain will complete its group stage against Croatia. Both have four points, and a 2-2 draw would see both teams advance to the quarterfinals regardless of Italy’s result against Ireland.

Italy started strongly in Poznan, and Claudio Marchisio was denied by a double save from Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Playmaker Andrea Pirlo then curled in a goal direct from a free kick in the 39th minute.

Croatia changed formation at halftime and pulled into a tie when Mario Mandzukic finished at the far post after a cross from Ivan Strinic.

Mandzukic’s third goal at Euro 2012 put him in a three-way tie atop the scoring chart.

After Croatia scored, the smoke from one of several flares thrown on the field was so intense that Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon complained he couldn’t see and the match was suspended briefly.

Croatia already is answering a range of UEFA charges Friday, including for a thrown firework which delayed its 3-1 win against Ireland.


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