Croatia punish Ireland
Irish hopes dashed in group opener as Croatia earn win
Last Updated: 11/06/12 10:45am
Republic of Ireland's return to the big stage after a 10-year absence fell flat on the field in a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Poznan.
Ireland fans were in full voice and enjoying their country's first tournament since 2002 but goals from Mario Mandzukica and Nikica Jelavic as well as a Shay Given own-goal were enough for Croatia to claim the points.
The consensus before the match was that Ireland needed to make a strong start if they were to get anything from the game, so things looked bleak when their opponents took the lead within three minutes.
Mandzukic's header from Darijo Srna's deflected cut back appeared to wrong-foot Shay Given and was allowed to loop into the bottom corner of the net.
For a team that had kept 11 clean sheets from 14 games prior to this tournament and is set up to contain the opposition, Ireland could have been forgiven for being rattled.
But their response was impressive with Kevin Doyle competing well up front to win a series of free-kicks. It was from one such opportunity that Giovanni Trapattoni's men levelled it up before the 20 minute mark.
Aiden McGeady whipped the ball in from the left and Sean St Ledger succeeded in eluding Vedran Corluka at the far post to nod home via his own shoulder.
Thereafter Ireland continue to surrender possession with Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews playing extraordinarily deep in midfield, seemingly happy to invite Luka Modric on to them.
It was working until just before half-time. Stephen Ward horribly miskicked an attempted clearance after a ricochet on the edge of the box, only managing to skew the ball to Jelavic who lofted it over Given.
And any hopes that Ireland could use the interval to regroup were gone when Mandzukic's header came back off the post only to bounce back off Given and into the net to put Croatia 3-1 up.
Trapattoni made changes by introducing Jonathan Walters, Simon Cox and Shane Long but there was little in the way of invention and, for all the Irish efforts, Slaven Bilic's side were able to see the game out.
Ireland emerged from the tunnel before kick-off to be greeted by a sea of green and a torrent of noise as they embarked upon their first game at the European Championship finals for 24 years.
But within three minutes, a sizeable proportion of the hope and expectation which has mounted since qualification via the play-offs in November last year had evaporated.
Croatia started much the better and received their reward when captain Srna's right-wing cross clipped full-back Ward and sat up for Mandzukic.
The striker had slipped as Srna prepared to deliver, but managed to right himself and head towards the bottom corner.
His effort looked to lack power, but Given, whose fitness had been a major talking point for the previous three weeks, just could not get to the ball in time.
Bilic's men scented victory as Mandzukic and strike-partner Jelavic repeatedly stretched Richard Dunne and St Ledger at the heart of Ireland's defence, the signs were ominous.
Full-backs Srna and Ivan Strinic repeatedly made their way forward to occupy wingers Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff in areas of the pitch where they would rather not have been, and with Luka Modric starting to pull the strings in the middle of the field, Ireland were desperately in need of inspiration.
It arrived, firstly in the shape of striker Kevin Doyle and then St Ledger with 19 minutes gone.
The combative Doyle was giving Corluka a torrid time and forced the Tottenham defender to concede one of a series of free-kicks.
McGeady's delivery to the far post was firm and true and with Corluka out of position, St Ledger crept in front of him to head the Republic level from close range.
The noise which erupted as the ball hit the back of the net was phenomenal and roared on by the bulk of a crowd of 39,550, Ireland started to make a game of it.
Given dispelled any fears of his health with a fine diving save from Ivan Perisic's firmly-struck 22nd-minute shot, and he was grateful to see the same man thump a dipping volley wide nine minutes before the break.
However, Ireland looked to be heading in at the break all square until disaster struck with two minutes of the half remaining.
The increasingly influential Modric cut inside the covering Robbie Keane to fire in a long-range shot which was blocked, but in his haste to clear, Ward could only slice the loose ball to the delighted Jelavic, who easily beat Given from close range to restore his side's advantage.
Given's luck deserted him totally within three minutes of the restart when Mandzukic powered a header towards goal from a Perisic cross and saw the ball come back off the post, hit the keeper on the head and fly into the unguarded net.
Trapattoni made a double substitution just eight minutes into the second half when he replaced Doyle and McGeady with Walters and Cox, and the latter sent a long-range effort high over Stipe Pletikosa's crossbar within seconds of his arrival.
But with Croatia by now firmly in the driving seat and knowing victory was within their grasp, the Republic found themselves struggling to make it out of their own half.
However, they were convinced they should have been awarded a 63rd-minute penalty for central defender Gordon Schildenfeld's crude challenge from behind on Keane, although Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers took a markedly different view.
Dunne headed a 68th-minute Duff free-kick straight at Pletikosa, but Croatia were cruising towards victory without having to expend unnecessary energy.Midfielder Ivan Rakitic curled a 77th-minute shot inches wide and Keith Andrews power a header agonisingly past the post at the death, but the points had been secured long before.
|Republic of Ireland||Team Statistics||Croatia|
|1||1st Half Goals||2|
|3||Shots on Target||5|
|7||Shots off Target||5|
|38.6||1st Half Poss.||61.4|
|52.9||2nd Half Poss.||47.1|
European Championships Group A
European Championships Group B
European Championships Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||3||0|
European Championships Group D
Rep of Ireland v Croatia
Keith Andrews admitted Ireland 'shot themselves in the foot' as they were dumped out of Euro 2012 thanks to a 4-0 thumping by Spain.
Niko Kranjcar believes Croatia can make it through to at least the semi-finals of Euro 2012 after kicking off their campaign with a victory.
Robbie Keane bemoaned referee Bjorn Kuipers' decision not to award the Republic of Ireland a penalty in their 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Poznan.
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