10.06.2012 at 20:45 Municipal Stadium Poznan
3 - 1
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Mr. Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).
European Cup Finals-match
Croatia 3 – 1 Republic of Ireland
Mandzukic 3, 48 Sean St Ledger 19
Keith Andrews 30th Cap; Glenn Whelan 40th Cap, 50th Cap for Aidan Mc Geady
The disappointment for Ireland in losing their opening match of the EURO 2012 Championship in Poznan was their failure to play to their usual standard. While Croatia's superiority was beyond question, the reality was that Ireland made it surprisingly easy for them by playing poorly.
Croatia showed just why they are ranked eighth in the World by FIFA by dominating Ireland in general play and by making full use of the scoring chances that fell their way. A physically powerful and technically adept team always seemed to have the answer to the problems presented by Ireland.
Nothing illustrated the difficulties faced by Ireland more starkly than the personnel withdrawn by manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Ireland have profited for so long from the scoring power of Robbie Keane that it was something of a shock to see the captain substituted with 15 minutes left to play.
Kevin Doyle has not had a particularly successful club season but he has generally performed well for Ireland. And Aiden McGeady has regularly featured as our most penetrative attacking player. Their departure spoke volumes for the inability of Ireland to reach their normal standards.
Trapattoni gambled as Ireland chased the game after falling 1-3 behind as early as the 48th minute and he had no fewer than three centre-forwards on the pitch when he introduced Simon Cox and Jon Walters in the 53rd minute. But on this night Ireland's problems were probably more accurately centred on more withdrawn positions. The front runners did not receive a good service.
Truth is Croatia were gifted a couple of very easy goals by a defence that went into these finals with a reputation of being Scrooge-like in their concession of goals. And with Ireland unusually vulnerable and indecisive, Croatia ruled the game in midfield with Luka Modric allowed room and space to dictate the trend and pace of the game.
That said it is only right to point to a number of issues that did not reflect well on the judgement of the match officials. Croatia's second goal could have been ruled out by offside and should have been ruled out because of a foul on Stephen Ward in the penalty area.
Second half, with Croatia leading 3-1, Robbie Keane had his legs kicked from under him in the Croatia penalty area by Schildenfeld in an incident obvious to all. It was a blatant penalty but was unaccountably ignored by the Dutch referee.
Heavy rain fell for much of the match and Ireland looked short of energy and even short of confidence for 60 minutes. The shock of losing a goal to a header from centre-forward Mandzukic in the third minute left them stunned. To their credit they battled back and Sean St Ledger showed real resolve to muscle his way to McGeady's free kick in the 19th minute to head the equaliser.
The goal settled Ireland and for a period they matched Croatia. But a regrettable sequence of events that led to a second goal for Croatia in the 43rd minute again upset them. And when Croatia took advantage of careless play by Ireland to snatch a third in the third minute of the second half the issue was settled.
The second goal followed a corner from the right that was turned away from goal and fell to Modric 25 yards out. He shot while Jelavic was standing in an offside position and the ball ricocheted about the crowded penalty area to where Stephen Ward mis-cued an attempted clearance and Jelavic was left unchallenged to beat Given. Ward's mis-cue was due to the fact that he was tripped as he drew on the ball but the referee chose to ignore Ireland's protestations.
Jelavic and Mandzukic had the physical strength to win a lot of possession in Ireland's penalty area and they always carried a threat. It was Mandzukic who reacted smartly to turn a header from Perisic away from Given so the ball struck the inside of the upright and then bounced into the net off the diving goalkeeper's head in the 48th minute.
Ireland, game as ever, continued to compete but their football was predictable and comfortably countered by a worldy-wise Croatia. They ensured the football in the closing twenty minutes was fragmented and inconclusive from an Irish point of view. Dunne came forward to threaten with a header and Andrews had several efforts that were close, but Ireland were lacking variety in their play and too reliant on seeking the overhead route.
Manager Trapattoni spoke of the shock of losing a goal within three minutes of the start of the game and he said this had left Ireland psychologically in a very poor situation.
He said Croatia were superior in midfield in the first half and he credited them with producing a very good performance in the second half. He stressed that while it was disappointing to lose, Ireland were just a point behind Spain and Italy and now must try to overcome Spain in their next match to get back into the tournament.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given (Aston Villa); John O'Shea (Sunderland), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Stephen Ward (Wolves); Damien Duff (Fulham), Keith Andrews (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolves).
Subs: Jon Walters (Stoke) for McGeady, Simon Cox (West Brom) for Doyle (both 52 mins), Shane Long (West Brom) for Keane (74 mins).
Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa; Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, Gordon Schildenfeld, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic, Ognjen Vukojevic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic; Mario Mandzukic, Nikica Jelavic
Subs: Kranjcar for Jelavic 71, Eduardo for Perisic 89, Dujmovic for Rakitic 90 + 2.
Referee: Mr. Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).