Five thoughts from Day Seven at EURO 2012:
1. Pirlo is crucial to Italy's success
Aside from scoring a wonderful free kick, Italy's Andrea Pirlo was at the heart of everything they did going forward against Croatia. His influence on the Italian team will play a key role in determining how far they go in the tournament.
Croatian head coach Slaven Bilic clearly understood that stopping Pirlo was important for his team's chances of success against Italy, as Mario Mandzukic was asked to drop into midfield to pick up Pirlo in the first half. The Republic of Ireland will do well to take that into consideration before taking on the Italians on Monday.
2. Early goals have ruined Ireland's chances
The Republic of Ireland has played two games at Euro 2012, losing to both Croatia and Spain. While most expected the Irish to finish at the bottom of Group C, conceding goals early has made success an uphill struggle.
In fact, Ireland conceded goals within the opening four minutes of each half of football that they have played at Euro 2012. Head coach Giovanni Trapattoni must be infuriated with his team for being so sloppy. The Irish have clearly forgotten one of the unwritten rules of football – maintain concentration in the first and last five minutes of each half.
3. Are we now going to see the Fernando Torres of old?
Fernando Torres opened his Euro 2012 account against Ireland, pouncing on a loose ball in the box in the 4th minute, skipping past a challenge and driving it over the head of Irish keeper Shay Given. He then added a second after the break before begin replaced by Cesc Fabregas.
Despite scoring a brace, it will take a string of fine performances from Torres to convince me that he has recaptured his best form. Torres has endured a difficult time in front of goal since moving from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011, and despite winning the Champions League with Chelsea this year, his confidence has taken a massive hit due to his inability to hold down a regular place at the club level.
4. Can Croatia (or anyone, for that matter) get the better of Spain?
Croatia goes into their final group game against Spain on Monday knowing that they likely need a result against the defending champions in order to reach the knockout phase. Have they got enough in their team to pull it off? I don't think they do.
Spain will employ the same tactic against Croatia that has brought them success over the last four years – they will pass the ball to death, frustrate the Croats into making defensive mistakes, and punish them accordingly. While Spain were frustrated in their 1-1 draw with Italy, this tactic worked to perfection against Ireland.
Unfortunately for Croatia, they don't have the same defensive discipline as the Italians. While Croatia has some punch up front in Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic, I don't believe they are good enough defensively to live with Spain.
5. Irish fans are the best
With their 4-0 defeat to Spain, Ireland became the first team to be knocked out of the competition. As disappointing as that must be for Irish fans, they can take heart from the fact that they underlined their reputation as being the best fans in Europe.
Down 4-0 late in the game, Irish fans broke into song – belting out 'The Fields of Athenry' at the top of their lungs. Kudos to them for supporting their team; win, lose or draw.