WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two goals from rejuvenated forward Fernando Torres helped Spain knock Ireland out of the European Championship on Thursday, and Italy drew 1-1 with Croatia to leave Group C finely balanced.
Torres was recalled to replace Cesc Fabregas up front and scored in the fourth and 70th minutes as Spain outclassed Ireland to win 4-0 in Gdansk, Poland.
However, the defending champion can still be eliminated depending on results in the final group games on Monday.
Elsewhere, Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner was criticized by team officials for his goal celebration Wednesday which revealed an unofficial sponsor’s name on his underpants.
UEFA fined Germany for its fans’ uncharacteristic behavior — hurling paper missiles at Portugal players — and a court in Warsaw sent more Poles to prison for violence on the city’s streets on Tuesday.
Spain’s players stamped their authority on Euro 2012 after seeming unsettled in a 1-1 draw with a lively Italian side in their first match.
After Torres lashed in his first goal, the familiar Spanish short-passing style was quickly established and Ireland struggled to see much of the ball.
“With the early goal, everything was easier and the performance of the team was great tonight,” Torres said.
David Silva got a second goal in the 49th, and Fabregas fired a fourth in the 83rd after coming on for Torres.
The final whistle blew on Ireland’s Euro 2012 hopes with the stadium resounding to its fans signing “The Fields of Athenry.”
Spain completes its fixtures against Croatia. Both have four points and a 2-2 draw would see both teams advance to the quarterfinals regardless of Italy’s result against Ireland.
Italy started strongly in Poznan and Claudio Marchisio was denied by a double save from Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Playmaker Andrea Pirlo then curled in a goal direct from a free kick in the 39th minute.
Croatia changed formation at halftime, and deservedly leveled when Mario Mandzukic finished at the far post after a cross from Ivan Strinic.
Mandzukic’s third goal at Euro 2012 put him in a three-way tie atop the scoring chart.
After Croatia scored, the smoke from one of several flares thrown on the field was so intense that Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon complained he couldn’t see and the match was briefly suspended.
Croatia already is answering a range of UEFA charges Friday, including for a thrown firework which delayed its 3-1 win against Ireland.
Bendtner arrived at Euro 2012 seeking to restore his reputation after appearing unwanted at Arsenal, but his two-goal tally in a 3-2 loss against Portugal was quickly tarnished.
The tall forward was given a dressing down by Denmark football officials for promoting an Irish gambling operator, which contravened the association’s tie-in with a rival British firm.
“This is not something we will accept,” Richard Funch, the manager for Ladbrokes in Denmark, told The Associated Press.
A Danish team spokesman said Bendtner will wear regulation underwear against Germany on Sunday.
UEFA is also weighing action against Bendtner for breaking its rules on ambush marketing to protect official Euro 2012 sponsors.
In near daily business for UEFA’s disciplinary body, Germany was fined €10,000 ($12,550) because its fans threw crumpled paper balls at Portugal players during their team’s 1-0 win last Saturday in Lviv, Ukraine. UEFA issued a second charge for the same offense during a 2-1 win against the Netherlands on Wednesday.
UEFA rules make national associations responsible for their fans’ behavior inside stadiums.
The Portuguese federation was fined €5,000 ($6,275) because the team was late out to face Germany for the second half.
In Warsaw, a district court returned more fast-track verdicts Thursday in cases arising from violence on the capital city’s streets before Poland played Russia.
A total of 23 Poles have been convicted of assaulting police officers and “taking part in illegal gatherings.” Three men were jailed for up to five months.
Police detained 156 Poles, 25 Russians, a Spaniard, a Hungarian and an Algerian for the fighting around the emotionally charged game.
In Friday’s matches, co-host Ukraine plays France in forecast stifling heat in Donetsk, and England plays Sweden in Kiev.