Group C
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia



Wolfsburg's Marko Mandzukic is chased by strike-partner Jelavic after putting the Croatians ahead early on to leave the Irish on the rocks


By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from City Stadium, Poznan 

Croatia took the upper hand in Group C with their considerable gulf in class telling as a spirited Republic of Ireland were comfortably beaten in their first game of Euro 2012.

The Irish, playing in a major international tournament for the first time in ten years, were seen off in a significant opening match between the two underdogs of the four teams competing in the group with the Croatians proving their quality as Giovanni Trapattoni's men were made to pay for defensive lapses. Mario Mandzukic gave his country the lead in just the third minute heading past Shay Given although Sean St Ledger equalised soon after. Nikica Jelavic put the Croats infront shortly before half-time finishing well while the experienced Irish goalkeeper Given unfortunately had an own goal against his name after the impressive Mandzukic saw his header go in off the Aston Villa shotshopper after hitting the post. The result was a reality check for the Irish- who lost only once in their ten qualifying matches against Russia.

Republic of Ireland's 73-year old boss Trapattoni, becoming the oldest head coach to ever manage at the European Championships, had named his line-up a few days in advance keeping faith with a number of players who were regular choices during the qualification campaign. Shay Given began in goal despite the concerns this week surrounding his fitness having not taken part in the full training sessions. John O'Shea started at right-back with Paul McShane and Stephen Kelly left out while Wolves forward Kevin Doyle was selected to partner captain Robbie Keane upfront.

The Croatians, without defender Lovren, had to reshuffle the backline with Tottenham's Vedran Corluka forced to play in central defence having been passed fit while captain Darjo Srna, a midfielder by trade, was acquired at right-back. Having lost Ivica Olic to injury before the beginning of the tournament, in-form Everton striker Nikica Jelavic led the line alongside Mario Mandzukic while some former Premier League stars were among the substitutes including ex-Blackburn forward Nikola Kalinic and departed Arsenal forward Eduardo Da Silva- who missed Euro 2008 after breaking his leg.

With overriding favourites Spain drawing with Italy earlier in the day, top spot in Group C at the end of day one was up for grabs if either side could win here which would give them massive belief going into two difficult matches against the last two winners of the World Cup. Three points was imperative and a huge incentive for the two smallest nations representing Euro 2012 if their aspirations of qualifying are to become reality.



Republic of Ireland had kept eleven clean sheets in their fourteen match unbeaten run before this game.


And it was the worst possible start for the Republic of Ireland, whose only previous appearance in the Euros came back in 1988 where they beat England in their first game, as they conceded inside three minutes to dampen the atmosphere around the ground. Ivan Perisic delivered the corner which was flicked away to the back stick where it was retrieved by Rakitic whose cross back in deflected off Ward to Mandzukic who was losing his footing but managed to pick himself quickly as the ball was in mid-air and head simply towards goal which caught Given by surprise finding the bottom of the corner despite the Irish goalkeeper getting a hand to it.

The spirited Irish needed to keep their heads up, although up against it, and come from behind which they had done on a couple of occasions during qualifying. The industry of Fulham's Damien Duff on the right flank and the creativity of Spartak Moscow Aiden McGeady down the left hand side were potent weapons in the Irish armourery coupled with the work-rate of Doyle and goal threat of Keane upfront. They were doing their utmost to get level committing more men forward while wary of keeping the back door shut with Modric ominously clicking into his stride.

Andrews drilled a free-kick into the wall before another free-kick led to the Irish equaliser they craved. Former Celtic man McGeady crossed the ball with his right peg into the heart of the Croatian penalty area where Leicester defender Sean St Ledger glanced in having got infront of his marker Corluka who wasn't goalside to level for the Irish on 19 minutes with his third international goal. The "Green Army" went wild leading to them doing a "Poznan" in Poznan while Irish assistant manager Marco Tardelli, as promised, replicated his 1982 World Cup celebration with vigour from the technical area.

Croatia looked to regain their lead with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ivan Perisic striking a sweet half-volley from twenty-five yards which veered away to the right and was beaten away by the two solid palms of Given. While Spurs playmaker Luka Modric started to pull the strings testing Given's concentration on 33 minutes after he had swept the ball to the right side to Srna who gave the ball back with Modric curling it first time towards the goal although it was patted down by Given easily enough.

At the other end, Vedran Corluka was given the run-around by Doyle in particular as the Spurs player, whose accustomed position is right-back, couldn't cope with the non-stop hassling from the Wolves man. The Irish, opting for experience in their line-up, were beginning to find their feet.  

Perisic again tried his luck from outside the box this time it sat up beautifully for him again on the half-volley from a similar spot to the first effort although it whistled a couple of yards wide of the right-hand post with Given watching it past the post all the way. Slaven Bilic- who leaves the role of national coach of Croatia at the end of the tournament to take charge of Lokomotiv Moscow- would have been happy with the number of sightings of Given's goal that they had in the first half with the Irish stopper being the busier of the two goalkeepers while Modric was influencing proceedings more and more.



Croatia have never lost an opening match in the group stages of a European Championship finals- although this is only their fourth Euros tournament.


Having ended the first half stronger, the Croatians were back infront scoring at the perfect time- just before half-time. The Irish dealt with the first shot tamely pee-rolled by Modric however the ball ricocheted off Stephen Ward to a suspiciously offside-looking Nikica Jelavic with the Everton forward using his razor-sharp reactions to jab the ball over the onrushing Given and into the net. The striker, who netted 14 SPL goals for Rangers and 11 goals for Everton last season, extended his explosive goalscoring form into his tournament debut for the national side- the name on all Croatian lips stuck it away as the Ireland players looked for a flag that didn't come.

Irish came out in the second half with a more encouraging frame of mind however the Croats had merited their lead playing the better football which rubbed off once again as the Irish challenge was killed off just three minutes after half-time with almost a carbon copy of the first goal. Wolfsburg striker Mandzukic popped up with a header utilising his mobility in the air from a delicious cross which was creeping into the right-hand corner before fortuitously bouncing in off the head of Shay Given who was credited with an own goal. It now meant the Irish had a mountain range to climb and were needing miracles.

Trapattoni made a double substitution in order to rescue the match from what he knew would be a damaging defeat with McGeady and Doyle taken off as Simon Cox and Jon Walters were introduced minutes later. This was a huge advantage in the game for the Croats but there was also a huge moment just after the hour as Robbie Keane looked to receive a pass from his colleague Whelan right on the penalty line when he was kicked from behind by Croatian defender Gordon Schildenfeld with the fans and players alike collectively appealing for a penalty which Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers wasn't about to give.

Richard Dunne saw a header gathered into his midrift by ex-Spurs keeper Stipe Pletikosa in goal for Croatia- who had a measure of control looking to see the match through with professionalism, having got themselves an unassailable lead, passing it around with confidence looking to tire out the Irish already who were already mentally drained by the disappointment of the goals they had let in. Ivan Rakitic could have added an extra goal to the scoreline when he tried to bend an effort past Given from Srna's cutback again with acres of space around the edge of the box as the Irish hadn't pushed out but he was within a whisker as it missed the far post by inches.

The chances late on in the game for the Irish seemed to all fall to the same man of West Bromwich Albion midfielder Keith Andrews. Firstly the 30-year old dragged a right footed effort wide first time on the swivel while secondly spurning the best opportunity that the Republic had created on the night as he rose with a free header from Damien Duff's corner with no-one in blue and red anywhere near him but he nodded it a yard wide with the whole goal to aim at. It was the Irish's best moment and summed up their day as they prepare for world champions Spain in Gdansk on Thursday where they need something to keep their now feint qualification hopes alive. A fabulous and deserved win for the Croats who move onto the task of facing the Italians in their second group fixture.



ANALYSIS:  Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia
Adam Higgins- Chief Football Editor reporting in Poznan

"The game was out of Republic of Ireland's reach right at the start of the second half which was a massive blow for them- all three goals they conceded could have been avoided and came about as a result of some sloppy defending which isn't what you expect from this Irish side and all came at poor times. From the moment they conceded after three minutes, it was always going to be hard for them to get back into the game and turn it around to win against a well-built Croatian side. Croatia were in control of the match although they weren't at their best defensively with Vedran Corluka looking nevry in particular out of position which against Spain and Italy could be punished. It leaves this group looking extraordinary tight and it will be interesting to see how this one pans out now- unfortunately for the Irish their chances of getting through are now are all but over. This was must-win for them."





Sunday 10th June                    UEFA Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine                   Group C                 City Stadium, Poznan

Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia                                     KO 7:45pm                    Live on ITV1/HD                   (HT 1-2)

St Ledger 19                   Mandzukic 3
                                          Jelavic 43
                                          Given 49 (og)




Republic of Ireland:


1 Shay Given-  6.5/10  Didn't have a great deal to save and was unfortunate to have got an own goal- a night to forget for him really.

4 John O'Shea-  6.5/10  Looked tired later in the game and didn't get forward a lot when they needed. Had a poor game defensively.

5 Richard Dunne-  7/10  Had to deal with a lot of aerial balls and had one or two headers in the other box which could have gone in.

2 Sean St Ledger-  7/10  Scored the goal but was a little suspect in terms of his part in two of the Croatia goals. He will have better games but will be encouraged by his performance.

3 Stephen Ward-  6/10  A poor game- one to get out of his system quickly. He deflected the cross for the first goal straight to Mandzukic while the ball ricocheted off him straight to Jelavic for the second. Never looked comfortable at all.

11 Damien Duff-  7.5/10  You can never fault Duff's industry and late in the game he was constantly getting crosses into the box and trying to get his side back into the match. One of the Irish's better performers on a dismal night.

6 Glenn Whelan-  6.5/10  A quiet game for the Stoke City man and didn't really handle the creative threat of playmaker Modric. Sat in the middle of the park all game and was largely ineffective.

8 Keith Andrews-  7.5/10  Probably had most of the small amount of chances that the Irish had and did manage to get forward frequently- missed a guilt-edged opportunity at the end.

7 Aiden McGeady-  6/10  Not his best game- supposed to have been the main creativity source for his team but lasted only 53 minutes. His best moment was setting up the St Ledger goal.

9 Kevin Doyle-  6.5/10  Cannot fault his efforts and work-rate especially in the first half where he drew several fouls from Corluka who was unsettled by the presence of the Wolves man.

10 Robbie Keane (C)-  6.5/10  Never had a chance at goal during the game, couldn't impose himself as normal and was unusually taken off during the second half.

Substitutes bench:-

16 Westwood (GK), 23 Forde (GK), 12 Kelly, 13 McShane, 18 O'Dea, 15 Gibson, 17 Hunt, 21 Green, 22 McClean, 14 Walters, 19 Long, 20 Cox.


Subs used: 

Walters (for Doyle-  53 mins)-  3.5/10  Didn't do a great deal to change the match for the Irish when coming on but his physical presence is enough to worry any defenders.

Cox (for McGeady-  53 mins)-  3.5/10  Tried to make an impression taking on a couple of shots but firing over in both cases. Hasn't had much football for West Brom but had a spring in his step.

Long (for Keane-  74 mins)-  3/10  Had no effect on the match at all which is surprising for such a lively player normally who loves to score goals. Remained glued to the penalty box but no chances fell his way.


Booked:       Andrews (45+1)


Sent-off:       None





1 Stipe Pletikosa-  7.5/10  Had a small number of things to deal with, was never tested to the limits in any of the saves he had to make. He couldn't have had a more easier match.

11 Darjo Srna (C)-  7/10  Filled in well at right-back for the Croatians, surging forward at will although in other games he would have been caught out rather easily- again never tested in terms of the defensive side of his game.

5 Vedran Corluka-  6/10  A poor match in all for the Spurs player although taking into consideration that he is out of position- it is unfair to blame him. Struggled against Doyle and was caught being the wrong side of St Ledger for the Irish equaliser.

13 Gordon Schildenfeld-  5.5/10  If you think Corluka was bad, this guy was ten times worse. Never looked in control, gave away needless and silly fouls more often than not. Could have easily conceded a penalty for cynical foul on Keane in second half.

2 Ivan Strinic-  6/10  The left back wasn't involved in the game and allowed a lot of Damien Duff crosses into the box caused by not getting tight to the winger quick enough. His passing was off throughout.

8 Ognjen Vukojevic-  6.5/10  Went about his business well down the right hand side- preferred in team to Kranjcar. Carried out defensive duties well in combination with the more important attacking influences.

7 Ivan Rakitic-  7/10  His change of gears is extraordinary- he ran with the ball once or twice losing it on the odd occasion but he was a key player for the Croats in keeping their two-goal lead in the second half by retaining possession.

10 Luka Modric-  8/10  Made things click for the Croats in the middle of the park- pulled the strings and orchestrated the play even though he was given time and space to work in. A top performance from a talented player.

20 Ivan Perisic-  7.5/10  Fancied his chances from distance more than once and went forward throughout looking to kill off the Irish. Has a good shot and has a couple of neat tricks up his sleeve.

17 Mario Mandzukic-  8.5/10  Was the best player on the park, scored the first goal albeit with a header which should have been kept out- could have easily been given the third goal. Caused allsorts of mayhem for the Irish backline for 90 minutes.

9 Nikica Jelavic-  8/10  A brilliant match for a player who has come to life this season in terms of his scoring- although he may have been offside for the goal, still finished it well and had a good understanding with his strike partner.

Substitutes bench:-

12 Kelava (GK), 23 Subasic (GK), 3 Simunic, 4 Buljat, 15 Vrsaljko, 21 Vida, 6 Pranjic, 14 Badelj, 16 Dujmovic, 19 Kranjcar, 18 Kalinic, 22 Eduardo Da Silva.


Subs used:

Kranjcar (for Jelavic-  71 mins)-  2.5/10  The now ex-Spurs winger came on hoping to have a positive effect in the hope of starting the next match- he did little except from picking up a booking.

Eduardo Da Silva (for Perisic-  89 mins)-  1/10  Former Arsenal man brought on with a minute to go but didn't have time to stamp his authority on proceedings.

Dujmovic (for Rakitic-  90+2 mins)-  0.5/10  A very brief cameo for the midfielder who managed just one touch of the ball.


Booked:       Modric (53), Kranjcar (83)


Sent-off:       None


My Man of the Match:
    Marko Mandzukic (Croatia)- Rating 8.5/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:    Gordon Schnildenfeld (Croatia)- Rating 5.5/10 



Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands)- 7/10
Attendance: 39,550



Match Facts:

Possession: Republic of Ireland- 45%              Croatia- 55%

Shots at goal: Republic of Ireland- 13               Croatia- 15

Shots on target: Republic of Ireland- 3                 Croatia- 5

Shots off target: Republic of Ireland- 10               Croatia- 10

Corners: Republic of Ireland- 1                    Croatia- 7

Fouls: Republic of Ireland- 11                    Croatia- 19

Offsides: Republic of Ireland- 2                     Croatia- 1

Assists: Republic of Ireland- 1 (McGeady)                 Croatia- 1 (Mandzukic)




Republic of Ireland head coach Giovanni Trapattoni:  "We have to believe. This evening we met a strong technical team. But every game in this tournament can be a surprise. It is a setback for us but we perform well in difficult circumstances and that is what we will need to do. It is obviously going to be tough, but that's football. You are not going to go through tournaments unbeaten. You will lose some - Croatia are in the top 10 for a reason. There is no better game to come next than Spain. Obviously we will relish the challenge of the world champions, so why not go and get a result? It doesn't come more difficult than Spain and we will need our supporters to be shouting for us again. It's definitely a penalty, there's no question about that. Their players and their fans were shouting for us to kick the ball out but, before the ball got to me, I think the fellow stood up or was just about to stand up. Whether the referee had that in the back of his mind, I'm not too sure. That's something you're going to have to ask him." 

Click here to listen to Republic of Ireland players' thoughts after the game 

Croatia head coach Slaven Bilic:  "I felt the game was there for us to go and win which I mentioned to the players at half-time. It was always going to be a difficult match and the scoreline doesn't reflect the game itself in my opinion. They were troubling us at setpieces but I felt we dealt with the two frontmen Keane and Doyle quite well as they never got a chance in the game to worry us in the penalty area. We were better in midfield and in keeping possession which was important while we kept good shape and Nikica (Jelavic) and Mario (Mandzukic) were a handful all match. It is a vital win and leaves us in a good position now in the group and we will go into the next two matches knowing that we have paved the way for us to qualify if we can get a good result against Spain and Italy." 

Click here to listen to reaction from both managers after Croatia's 3-1 victory in Poznan

Click here to read more reaction from the two coaches after the game


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