• Oh dear
What the Irish need to do tonight is channel the spirit of Armstrong. A little of Gerry and a lot of Neal, such is the size of the challenge ahead. Make no mistake, victory tonight would be the biggest achievement in the Republic of Ireland's history. Yes, bigger even than the wins over England in '88 and Italy in '94, for those were superior Irish teams to the current crew, and the opponents inferior to this Spanish armada. The chances of Ireland pulling it off seem more remote than Tristan da Cunha, but stranger things have happened. The birth of the universe, for example, is a trick that I still haven't got my head around. Ayes-ayes have me beat, too. If you can think of any other strangeitude from which we can draw hope, please feel free to share the weirdness.
Then, of course, there are the quirks that pierce hope, Giovanni Trapattoni's being an apposite example. He has made just one change to the side that flopped against Croatia and was outplayed in most of their matches prior to that. The change sees Simon Cox replace Kevin Doyle, which I think is a good move, as Doyle has been offering little beyond winning freekicks, while Cox is one of Ireland's most composed players on the ball and capable of moments of actual class – he could link midfield and attack well, assuming he can get on the ball. However, more changes were needed: Stephen Kelly should have come in for Stephen Ward and gone ot the right, with John O'Shea taking up residence on the left. Robbie Keane have been a hero for Ireland and you can never totally banish the possibility of him scoring, but he is clearly coming to the end of his career and Jonathan Walters or Shane Long would be more likely to trouble the Spanish defence tonight. And, of course, James McClean could have been given a start, or at least should not be overlooked in the likely event of Ireland needing to seek an equaliser at some point tonight.
Spain, meanwhile, have decided that they will not need six midfielders to overcome Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews so have reverted to that hackneyed old formation featuring an actual striker, if Fernando Torres still counts as such. And this afternoon's draw between Italy and Croatia makes victory even more important for them (and Ireland) than it was beforehand.
For of you asking, I have only had one bet on this match: for there to be a penalty. There's something about the prospect of all those little conjurers flitting around Ireland's box that makes me fear for Richard Dunne, but, recalling Niall Quinn in 2002, I also hold out hope of Ireland sneaking a spot-kick. While we're on the subject of refereeing decisions, shouldn't we take a moment to celebrate the general performances of the officials in this tournament: they have clearly tried to restore a bit of honest ruggedness to the game – unlike in the Champions League and even the Premier League to a large extent, shoulder challenges and wholesome jostling have been allowed, quashing fears that the authorities were determined to gradually phase out all contact from football. I'd like to see Ireland shoulder challenge like billy-o tonight.
Oh, and the other thing that emailers have been asking - and I can't think why - is what is the record win in European Championship history. The answer is 6-1, the score by which Holland hammered a shambolic Yugoslavia team in 2000.
The Champions: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Alonso, Busquets, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta; Torres
The Challengers: Given; O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady; Cox; Keane
Ref: P Proenca (Portugal)
Not much optimism from the green quarters: "Having come into work early so I could leave early to watch the game (2.45pm kickoff here in Canada), I expect to be out the door and into the pub across the road at 3pm," announces Joe Harden. However, I've got a bad feeling that even by the time I get there, the game will effectively be over. Xaviesta vs Wheldrews? This could be a massacre.
Popular disc-jockey Ken Early(@kenearlys) is a-watchin' the warm-up in Gdansk and tweets thus: "Spain players ping the ball around in a furious rondo. shane long accidentally volleys a ball into his own face."
Speaking on ITV, Roy Keane rubbishes the suggestion that his name-sake Robbie should have been left out today. "For his goal threat, you have to start Robbie," reckons Roy.
Those were the days. "When I was a lad, around this time of year, after the exams, the Spanish girls would begin to arrive in Ireland to learn English," recalls Billy Murphy. "Summer would be spent fruitlessly pursuing the senoritas. For the most part the Spanish remained chaste but there was always the story of the one guy who managed to get lucky. Maybe that's what we can do tonight!"
An upbeat blast from Charles Antaki. "Forgive me for crashing the Ireland supporters' premature wake (which they seem to be enjoying rather more than they ought), but Spain has hardly been irresistible recently. Before the 1-1 with Italy, they only just managed to beat China (1-0) in a friendly. And some might remember a devastating loss to mighty England (well, 1-0) at Wembley not that long ago. Let the Ireland supporters hang on to that (thought admittedly it won't do them much good in the end, I suspect)."
"A lot of these Irish players will be playing in the Championship next season so they might aswell enjoy this," reckons Roy Keane on ITV. Was that the sort of pre-match pep talk he gave as captain?
Well, the Irish fans are winning the crowd contest, outnumbering and out-signing their Spanish counterparts. That's something to cling on to.
1 min: Ireland kick-off, Cox Keane rolling it to Keane. That's a completed passes already. In your face Spain!
2 min: Satisfactory start by Ireland, despite a slip by St Ledger that momentarily caused panic. Cox even got in the game's first shot, a decent long-range effort that Casillas could only parry.
GOAL! Spain 1-0 Ireland (Torres 4') Party emphatically pooped. After typically tidy interplay from the Spanish, Richard Dunne slid in to tackle Silva but the ball broke to Torres at the edge of the area. He effortlessly ghosted past Ward and cracked a decent shot past Given, who should have stopped it.
6 min: Given saves one! After McGeady gave the ball away wide on the left, Spain cantered forward and eventually worked room for Silva to curl a low drive at Given. I am watching this with a wince.
8 min: This is far too easy for Spain. Another wave rushes forward, Arbeloa nods back to Torres, who smashes the ball wide from six yards. "Apologies for my earlier complaint," follows up Charles Antaki. "If Torres can score after 4 minutes, the Irish wake can start now."
10 min: Corner to Ireland! Duff clips it in, Dunne leaps like the world's largest salmon ... and heads wide.
10 min: Gah! McGeady overruns the ball when given a chance to get up a gallop down the left. There were lads waiting in vain for his cross.
12 min: Whelan caught dallying on the ball at the edge of his box and Silva nudges the ball through to Torres, who is denied by a fine tackle by Ward. Fair play to the much-maligned full-back.
14 min: After a bout of Spanish fannying, Alonso pings a superb low ball to Iniesta, who had darted from deep and into the box. St Ledger recovered in time to well it off the imp's toe.
16 min: Given has probably touched the ball more than any other Irish player. After another spell of Spanish ball-hogging, Pique tonks a 20-yard shot into the keeper's arm.
18 min: Excellent work by Ward to win the ball back for Ireland, sidestep two Spaniards and then knock the ball to Duff, who scurries forward ... and then gifts it to Casillas.
21 min: Pique waltzes past McGeady down the left wing and then tries to cut the ball back from the by-line,. but Dnnne intercepts. "Watching Ireland out-manned at literally every position really doesn't make you look forward to a 24 team Euros now does it?" jibbers N O'Hearn, who has a point.
23 min: Spain should really be further in front by now. With all the possession and space that they have, it's been negligent of them not to have created more chances. As I write that, Given has to make another save, battign away an Iniesta blast from the edge of the area.
25 min: Awful by McGeady! He attempted a preposterous dummy at the edge of his own area, allowing the ball to run straight to Silva. Given saved the ensuing shot and then, when the corner was half-cleared, Alonso spanked a decent shot inches over the bar from 25 yards.
26 mins: MAKE IT STOP!
27 min: Pique sends a free header badly wide from 10 yards.
29 min: It's some kind of strangeitude that Ireland are still only a goal down. "Why are Ireland trying to play football?" demands John. "Ball over the top for someone like Shane Long to run onto. Don't bother trying to pass it in midfield. And why is McClean still in the bench?" These are pertinent questions.
32 min: Ireland continue to resist any which way, Duff this time intervening in his own box to cutrail another intricate Spanish attack.
33 min: Great tackle by Andrew in midfield to snatch the off Silva. More of that please!
35 min: As if retaining possession isn't hard enough already, the ref has just barged into Andrews to give the ball back to Spain. Dunne cuts out the ensuing attack at the cost of a corner, which Ireland eventually clear.
36 min: Keane booked for a mistimed tackle on Iniesta. That's pretty much Keane's first invovlement in the game. There is no point in him being on the pitch in a game such as this: get Long or Walters on, as their dynamism and physicality could perhaps make the most off the meagre rations on offer for the Irish forwards.
38 min: Slack play by Spain at the edge of their own area after a reasonable break by Duff and Ward. Whelan rolls the ball to Cox, who is immediately engulfed by two Spaniards and the semi-chance dies.
40 min: Ramos splits open the Irish defence with a fine low pass. Torres get to it before Given but the angle is too acute for a shot so he tries a cut-back. Dunne is there to intervene.
41 min: Alba, who has been a constant menace down the left, raids forwards again before serving Iniesta, who founders on the rock of Dunne yet again.
42 min: After a lovely one-two with Silva, Xavi rolls a feeble shot at Given. It is actually quite damning on Spain that they have not scored more so far. At this rate Ireland could yet get a point. Or a shot, at least.
44 min: Shot from Arbeloa, saved! Follow-up by Arbeloa, blocked by St Ledger. Long live the resistance!
45 min: Here's some eye-candy for ye.
45 min: Cox does well to trap a long ball and pick out a pass to Keane, whose shot from 10 yards is blocked by Pique. But that's progress for Ireland.
45+1 min: Whelan booked for cynically tripping Silva.
45+2 min: Given tips a swirling 20-yard effort from Iniesta over the bar. No time for the corner as the ref blows for half-time. Trapattoni needs to get on McClean (for McGeady) and Walters or Long or both. And perhaps feed the Spanish some of that dodgy lasagne that Spurs had a few years back.
Let us pray
46 min: Irish change: Cox off, Walters on. Keane lingers.
46 min: Spain resume their dominance. Walters appears to be playing as a fifth midfielder.
48 min: After a patient move featuring approximately 150 passes, Arbeloa canters into space on the right and thumps a shot at Given, who parries.
Spain 2-0 Ireland (Silva 49') Oh well. Given blocked an Ineista shot but only batted it out as far as Silva, who collected it eight yards out, feinted past St Ledger and then sidefooted it through two pairs of Irish legs and into the bottom corner.
51 min: Duff floats in a freekick. Spain clear easily and sweep forward ... before Torres mislays his pass. "According to a heraldic fridge magnet I bought in Cork a few years ago, the motto associated with my name is From God every help," dribbles Martin O'Connor. "Even as an atheist, I think Ireland are going to need it."
52 min: Here's a stat, courtesy of Tracy Mohr. "Xabi Alonso completed more passes in the first half than the entire Ireland team." And here's a groan from me: grooooaan.
54 min: Alonso booked for knocking down Walters. Obviously the only way Spain can stop the Stoke stormer.
56 min: Fabulopus save by Given, who claws away a shot from Xavi as Ireland were again seared apart. Ay caramba. I am not saying that there is definitely something that Trap could do to alter the course of events, but not making any more substitutions yet is a dereliction of duty. Get Long and McClean on, Keane and McGeady off. There is no point continuing as is.
60 min: After a humdrum build-up by Ireland, mcgeady curled a reasonable cross into the box. Casillas claimed it easily. "Watching this match, the question that springs to mind is whether they really needed both sides of the pitch," wonders Joan Andre. "Couldn't they just give some more people the chance to watch the match in the stadium?"
62 min: Irish defenders rush to block shots from Silva and Torres before Busquets curls it wide from 10 yards.
64 min: Some spirited Irish pressure. It didn't quite result in a shot but Spain were at least bothered by the interplay between keane, McGeady and Andrews. "Peter Drury seemed to express surprise when the centre-back Gerard Pique managed to hammer in a shot earlier and Mark Lawrenson has made similar comments about other centre-backs in other games," stammers Steven Hughes. "How quaint. They're still labouring under the delusion that all centre-backs are stoppers, nothing more. And some say that British football is still in the dark ages, for some reason."
65 min: Spain substitution: Alonso off, Martinez on.
66 min: Good cross by McGeady but Ramos heads it behind for a corner, which comes to nothing. "It wasn't over at 1-0," parps Brynmoor Pattison. "It wasn't even over at 2-0. It was over when I saw Silva beating us to header inside our own box. David Silva, of all people. Getting to this tournament was a magnificent achievement." No, it wasn't, getting past Armenia and Estonia was little more than par.
68 min: Ireland are enjoying their best spell of the match, which is to say they have spent a little time in the Spanish half and froced their defenders to tackle a bit.
GOAL! Spain 3-0 Ireland (Torres 70') Oh that's sloppy. McGeady lost possession in the middle, the ball was slipped through to Torres, who got away from Ward easily and then, despite pressure from Dunne, slotted it past Given and into the net from 18 yards.
73 min: Spain susbtitution: Torres off, Fabregas on. So does not mean no strikers any more?
75 min: Shot! The ball breaks to Keane at the corner of the Spanish box. He sizes it up and fires in a decent low effort that Casillas knocks away.
76 min: To the biggest roar of the night, Trap finally makes the obvious change: on comes McClean. Off goes Duff.
78 min: Xavi curls a freekick high and wide.
79 min: Changes: Iniesta off, Cazorla on. And you'll like this one: Whelan off, Paul Green on. Take taht, Darren Gibson. And as for you, Wes Hoolahan ...
GOAL! Spain 4-0 Ireland (Fabregas 83') Bang! Fabregas fires the ball in off the post after Ireland fall asleep from a short corner.
84 min: St Ledger booked for a foul on mid-way. Spain take the freekick quickly and resume their domination.
86 min: So it looks like I'm not going to win that penalty bet. Seems I overestimated Ireland's ability to get close enough to foul.
90 min: There will be at least four more minutes of this hell.
90+2 min: "Low lie the Fields of Athenry," has been booming around the ground for the last five minutes, the plaintive ballad seeming partaicularly appropriate amid the slaughter.
Full-time: That was painful. "Sitting in Dublin, steaming angry with Trap,the author my six-year-old boy crying on my lap," fumes Paul Rock. "But the Irish fans singing has lifted the heart of a nation I think....ah crap, I have had too much beer."