Spain on fire, Croatia hold Italy11:01 15/06/2012 Ukraine / Poland - Spain's Fernando Torres defied his critics with a brace on Thursday, as the European and world champions outclassed the Republic of Ireland 4-0 to move level on points with Croatia, who drew with Italy.
The Chelsea forward, who was brought off the bench 15 minutes from time in La Roja's first game against Italy, began the tie in Gdansk, as coach Vicente Del Bosque deployed an out-and-out striker for the first time in Euro 2012.
Torres, criticised last season for a run of poor form, provided the perfect start for Spain just four minutes after kick-off, latching on to a loose ball in the Irish penalty area and firing hard and fast into the roof of the net.
Spain dominated possession but it was not until four minutes after the break that they doubled the score, when David Silva slotted the ball through a crowd of defenders after goalkeeper Shay Given failed to get distance on a punch.
Torres added a third on 70 minutes after Ireland lost possession on the half-way line and he was put through by Silva, outsprinting the back line and keeping his head to beat the advancing Given.
Cesc Fabregas, who came on for Torres in the 74th minute, made it four from a tight angle after the Irish defence failed to pick him up on a corner on the right.
The win puts Spain, who drew 1-1 with Italy in their opening match, level on four points with Croatia, with Italy on two. Ireland and veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni bow out of the tournament, having lost their first two matches.
Croatia earlier delighted their growing army of travelling fans when they battled back from 1-0 down to draw in Poznan.
Wolfsburg striker Mario Mandzukic – who scored two in the 3-1 win against Ireland – was once again the hero, when he fired past Gianluigi Buffon from close range on 72 minutes after slipping his marker at the back post.
But until Mandzukic's goal, Croatia fans in chequer-board red and white were subdued after Andrea Pirlo put Italy ahead on 39 minutes, curling in a sublime free-kick that dipped over the wall and gave goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa no chance.
The goal followed a build-up of pressure from Cesare Prandelli's side, with Mario Balotelli going close on two occasions and Claudio Marchisio forcing Pletikosa into a fine double save.
Italy, who drew 1-1 with Spain in their opening game, had been looking for victory to ensure they face Ireland in the final group game on June 18 with their destiny in their own hands, rather than having to rely on the Spain-Croatia result.
Uefa, meanwhile, announced fresh disciplinary proceedings against Germany after fans set off and threw fireworks during the country's 2-1 win over the Netherlands.
The German football association (DFB) had earlier been fined 10 000 euros (8 000 pounds, $12 500) after missiles were thrown onto the pitch during the country's opening match with Portugal, which they won 1-0.
Portugal were also fined fined 5 000 euros for a delay to kick-off in the game.
The fine imposed on the DFB is a fraction of the 120 000 euros imposed on Russia after its fans lit and threw fireworks during the game with the Czech Republic last Friday, which also saw stadium stewards beaten up and inflammatory nationalist flags.
Uefa threatened to deduct six points from Russia's next European championship qualifying campaign if there were any repeat of the crowd trouble.
Two Russians, two Spaniards and at least four Poles were handed jail terms ranging from three to five months, a court spokesman quoted by Poland's PAP news agency said, after violence in Warsaw before, during and after Tuesday's Poland-Russia match.
- Sapa / AFP