NEW YORK - In their final tune-up before the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, defending World-Cup champion Spain used a second-half surge to hold off the Republic of Ireland in an international friendly on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, 2-0.
After a rather lackluster first half, Roberto Soldado got Spain on the scoreboard with a sharp right-footed strike from just inside the penalty box in the 69th minute. Juan Mata sealed the match in the 88th minute with a one-touch finish that found its way into the back of the net despite substitute goalkeeper Darren Randolph’s deflection. Arsenal playmaker Santi Cazorla, who accepted the initial pass from the Chelsea star, delivered it right back to Mata in a well-timed sequence.
It was another dominant effort from the Euro 2008 and 2012 champions, who used steady ball possession and patience to overwhelm their opponents. Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad often appeared outclassed by attack-minded Spain, who took 22 shots compared to Ireland’s five.
Ireland’s best chance came in the 81st minute when defender Sean St. Ledger’s apparent equalizer following a corner kick was correctly ruled offside, as forward Simon Cox was caught by the official. There was a boisterous response from the well-supported, and perhaps anxious, Irish fans following the call, who may have felt robbed due to St. Ledger's animated reaction.
Ireland entered the match without a loss since Nov. 14, and after a 3-0 World Cup Qualifying result over the Faroe Islands on Friday in Dublin. However, the Green Army were facing a far more daunting task against the FIFA No. 1.
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“We achieved what we came to do,” Spain manager Vicente del Bosque said through an interpreter about his squad’s efforts.
Del Bosque was pleased that La Roja got out of the match without injuries and with a positive result. In the process, his squad delighted a spirited New York crowd that did the wave in the second half, and chanted “Ole! Ole!” before the final whistle.
Much of the 39,368 in attendance at the famed baseball stadium were there to watch Spain’s star-studded 23-man lineup, composed of 12 players from either Barcelona or Real Madrid. The crowd roared when Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas entered in the 58th minute for Barcelona’s Victor Valdes.
This Spain squad, which includes Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and Sergio Ramos, among other stars, is considered among the greatest of all-time. Holding off a side like Ireland is routine work for a country that is undefeated in qualifying and perhaps the favorite to repeat as champions in Brazil 2014.
Spain’s historic run continues with more important business to attend to, as they immediately move on to the eight-team Confederations Cup tournament. Spain face Uruguay on Sunday, followed by Tahiti, and then Nigeria.
“I like New York,” said defender Nacho Monreal with a smile, when asked about the club’s brief visit. “But tomorrow we leave for Brazil.”