Anything can happen in 90 minutes, said Giovanni Trapattoni. But when Spain play like this and his Republic of Ireland team see their limitations exposed so painfully, only one thing can happen. The mis-match of Euro 2012 so far concluded with Spain igniting their championship defence and Ireland beating a humble retreat.
Ireland's fate was set in motion by their 3-1 defeat to Croatia on Sunday but how Spain confirmed it. Fernando Torres, who returned to start as a true No9, rediscovered his appetite for goals, his midfield colleagues sparkled and Ireland struggled to give their magnificent support an attacking moment to remember, even if the late introduction of James McClean was appreciated.
Ireland play better in adversity? Here, there was only adversity. From the very start, when Torres flashed home his first, the outcome was never in doubt. The doggedness that Trapattoni has instilled served to bring this cherished qualification but it could never work the required miracle to escape a punishing Group C. The rocky road now leads home.
Spain could not countenance more dropped points after the 1-1 draw against Italy and there was purpose to go with their relentless pressing and passing. Torres pointed to his ear after he scored his first goal, a dig at his critics, and his second was similarly accomplished, even after he appeared to get his touch stuck under his feet when one-on-one with Shay Given.
The pick of the bunch was David Silva's goal but Cesc Fábregas chipped in with a belter to make a point of his own, after being started on the substitutes' bench. He beat the Ireland substitute Paul Green following a cute corner routine and fizzed a drive inside the far corner. All of his frustration was on that shot; Ireland's was etched into perspiring brows.
It was their heaviest defeat since 1971 and its manner was so comprehensive that recriminations felt futile, although Roy Keane, the former captain, sniped from afar. "We need to change the attitude towards the team," he said. "Let's not just be going for the sing-song." It was some sing-song. Irish voices united during the closing stages and they departed Gdansk with their pride unbowed. The team will play for little else in Monday's final tie against Italy.
Trapattoni allowed his frustration to show. Ireland had conceded early goals in both halves of the defeat to Croatia and that they did so again reinforced the manager's impression that "fear" and "tension" had gripped his players on the biggest stage. "I had not seen that in the team in training or qualification but this is a clear symptom of a team that approaches a competition either feeling inferior or a bit concerned so you make basic errors," he said.
He had tweaked his system with the selection of Simon Cox in front of a midfield four in a bid for greater stability but he lamented how the early concession had sent the tactical plan "out of the window".
Andrés Iniesta's pass for Silva was driven and incisive but Richard Dunne checked him with a slide tackle. Torres, though, was lurking. He burst on to the ball, skated away from Dunne and ran around Stephen Ward before blasting high and hard through Given. An ominous omen: Spain had won their previous 58 matches after scoring the opening goal.
Spain gorged themselves on possession and from the stands, it was easy to marvel at the technique; the assurance of the touches; the power and speed of the passes. For Ireland's players, though, it was rather more of an ordeal. They fought to stay close to the red shirts yet it was gruelling. The minutes ticked like hours. Spain like to sap energy before resolve. It did not feel fair to see Keith Andrews poleaxed by the referee, Pedro Proença, during one slow-burning Spanish raid.
"Spain are like an orchestra," Trapattoni said. "They involve everyone. They very rarely misplace passes."
The first-half was all Spain, and Given was forced to work, seriously on several occasions. Iniesta bristled with menace, Silva was balletic. Torres blasted a decent chance wide. Ireland could be happy enough with the half-time scoreline. While the margin remained tight, they would not give up hope. They clung to the belief that they could sneak something, possibly from a set piece. Yet the thinking was highly wishful. Iker Casillas was a virtual bystander in the Spain goal.
Trapattoni shuffled again at half-time, replacing Cox with Jon Walters and going to 4-4-2. But the game was over within four minutes, prompting further maddening deja vu. Hope had disappeared. Silva's goal was the definition of how to toy with defenders. He might have been on the beach in his native Canary Islands as he feinted to put Sean St Ledger on his backside, mesmerise Ward and, with impish cool, pass the ball beyond Given.
The second-half was all Spain, too. Given distinguished himself with a wonder save from Xavi Hernández but it quickly became a question of how many Spain would score. Mercifully, the pain stopped at four.