Euro 2012: St Ledger reflects on tough game
Sean St Ledger was left to reflect upon the most difficult game of his career as Ireland attempted to pick up the pieces of their Euro 2012 campaign.
St Ledger and his team-mates felt the full force of reigning world and European champions Spain in Gdansk on Thursday night as they slumped to a 4-0 defeat which ended their hopes of making it out of Group C. The Irish spent Friday regrouping ahead of Monday night's final game against Italy, but with St Ledger still struggling to fully comprehend what he had witnessed.
The 27-year-old Leicester defender said: "They are the best team I have ever played against and am probably likely ever to play against. Everyone knows how well they keep the ball, but on the flip side of that, they are unbelievable at getting it back.
"There was a time in the first half when each one of us had given the ball away, but we just didn't have any options on it. Maybe because you are chasing so much, when you get it, you are tired.
"You have to give them full credit for the side they are. They are world champions and European champions for a reason and they showed that."
St Ledger admitted before the tournament started that he would be facing an entirely different challenge to the one to which he is exposed every week in the npower Championship. However, the reality proved even more difficult than he had anticipated.
He said: "It was mentally more challenging than anything for a defender. There are not many long balls. Everything is in front of you. But it is all about decision-making. You need to know when to go and step on to the man, or when to stay in your slot.
"It is the most difficult game I have had in my career by far. It was a learning experience."
Ireland will arrive in Poznan, the scene of their opening 3-1 defeat by Croatia, knowing they have nothing other than pride for which to play in their final game. The same is not true, however, of their opponents with Italy knowing only victory will give them a chance of overhauling either the Spaniards or the Croatians, and that even that might not be enough.
If Spain and Croatia were to draw 2-2, an Italian win would mean all three teams would have five points, but under the rules of the competition, they would go out as a result of having scored fewer goals when the results against Ireland are disregarded.