Spain see off brave Ireland
Ireland 0 Spain 2
THIS was a different kind of defeat to Euro 2012. At full time, Giovanni Trapattoni warmly embraced Vicente Del Bosque and strode towards the centre circle with a smile on his face.
He predicted beforehand that his team would avoid humiliation this time around and that confidence proved correct. It may only have been a friendly, but a repeat of the Polish drubbing would have taken the gloss off an encouraging summer window.
Unsurprisingly, the protagonist packed with major tournament winners prevailed in this New York meeting with a depleted Irish side largely composed of performers from the second tier of the English game.
Crucially though, the underdogs succeeded in keeping the Spanish at bay until the final quarter, and might have nicked a draw from a late rally before Juan Mata added to Roberto Soldado's opener in the dying moments.
Just beforehand, Sean St Ledger had a goal disallowed and Iker Casillas produced two top drawer saves.
"The better team won," stressed Trapattoni. "They are the champions of the world. We know the Spanish players and they are superior technically and usually have more possession.
But football is particularly strange because we had chances, Conor Sammon had one, and then there was the goal. But that said, we have to recognise that Spain deserved to win."
As anticipated, Spain dominated possession from the get-go, with the Irish team shuffling from side to side like space invaders as they tried to keep their shape and let nobody through. Five minutes elapsed before an Irish player passed to a team-mate.
Still, while the world champions were dominant, they failed to really penetrate. "They controlled the game for 45 minutes but we had a good balance and good personality," said the Italian.
Trapattoni had suggested beforehand that he deployed Seamus Coleman and Andy Keogh in wide roles for a specific reason and it soon become apparent that they were effectively operating as extra full backs, checking the freedom of the overlapping Spanish duo Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa while also tucking in to protect James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick.
That organisation was apparent in the opening half hour as Spain struggled to cut Ireland open although there were frequent reminder there was nothing at stake, with some cocky moments in possession almost getting them into trouble.
From one such example, Robbie Keane nicked the ball to release Seamus Coleman with the backtracking Pedro picking up a yellow for his troubles. Coleman then turned Alba inside out to cross for Keogh who acrobatically volleyed over the crossbar.
That offered a brief chink of light and while Gerard Pique threatened from a pair of corners, with McCarthy in the right place to clear a header off the line, the clearest opportunity of the first half fell to an Irish player, specifically the much maligned Sammon.
As Pique dozed, Sammon showed greater desire to react to a hopeful punt and raised his foot to gain possession and race through on goal. Victor Valdes narrowed the angle and with time to pick his spot, possibly too much time, the Derby man shanked well wide.
That spurred the Spanish back into life and, considering they completed 438 passes to Ireland's 49 before the break, it was inevitable they would create.
Pedro fired inches off target after Paul McShane's tackle on Villa put the ball in his direction, with the latter then producing a fine stop from David Forde from a clever Silva through ball.
The loudest roar from the 39,368 crowd came four minutes shy of the interval when Pedro twisted away from St Ledger and blasted against the crossbar with Silva sending the rebound into orbit.
Trapattoni made one switch at the interval with Stephen Quinn coming in for Hendrick who will have learned a lot from an exercise where his inexperience was visible. Keane lasted a further 12 minutes, making way for Simon Cox.
But the Italian was slow to use his other subs as he sensed the possibility of a result. Del Bosque, on the other hand, introduced Jesus Navas, Cesc Fabregas, Soldado and Casillas before the hour mark with the Real Madrid keeper warmly greeted from the red shirts in the stands.
Forde was the busier netminder, however, although speculative attempts from Navas and Pique provided his only serious piece of work in the third quarter of this encounter.
But, with 21 minutes to go, Spain broke the deadlock, and it was a poor goal from an Irish perspective with defending in slow motion as Arbeloa cutting inside and nicking the ball away from McCarthy into the path of Soldado who unleashed a first time, right footed effort into the bottom corner with Darren O'Dea looking on.
Trapattoni duly decided to experiment with Darren Randolph coming in for his second cap and James McClean sent on for Keogh to go in search of an equaliser in the final 15 minutes.
In frenetic circumstances, he almost delivered, slipping away from Arbeloa and advancing to force a terrific stop from Casilas.
The real drama followed from his subsequent corner, with Kelly's header pushed onto the woodwork by the Spanish keeper with St Ledger converting from the goalmouth scramble that followed, helped by the endeavour of Cox.
They raced off in celebration, unaware that Cox was in an offside position and the goal was chalked out. To their credit, Ireland kept going, with Quinn and Coleman impressing in the finale.
They didn't get any closer to restoring parity and Spain bagged a second three minutes from time when Randolph - who had earlier denied Santi Cazorla with a brilliant fingertip save - was unable to stop Mata after the Arsenal man neatly released his fellow London-based playmaker.
The scoreline reflected Spanish dominance but, unlike 12 months ago, there were positives for an understrength Irish group to take from the experience.
Ireland: Forde [Randolph 74], Coleman, St Ledger, O'Dea, Kelly [Delaney 90]; Coleman, McCarthy [Meyler 85], Hendrick [Quinn 46], Keogh [McClean 74]; Keane [Cox 57], Sammon
Spain: Valdes [Casillas 59], Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets; Silva [Navas 46], Xavi [Mata 69], Iniesta [Fabregas 59], Pedro [Cazorla 80]; Villa [Soldado 59]