REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (1) vs CROATIA (3)
REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni insists his side will continue to believe that advancing to the European Championship quarter-final is possible, even if last night’s defeat to Croatia makes doing so exceptionally difficult to achieve.
Two headers from Mario Mandzukic and a masterful finish from Everton’s Nikica Jelavic ultimately undermined Trapattoni’s traditionally defensive tactics to inspire a Croatian victory from which they may fail to recover.
Ireland meet reigning World and European champions Spain before an equally difficult, and probably final, fixture against Italy, but Trapattoni still believes that they could yet do the unexpected.
“We have to believe,” said Trapattoni. “This evening we met a strong team, technical – we knew that before. But every game in this Euro can be a surprise. We have to believe this.”
The game began in the worst-possible way for Ireland when Mandzukic’s third-minute floating header evaded the despairing dive of goalkeeper Shay Given and nestled into the corner of the net.
An ability to fashion a lead to be defiantly defended may have come to characterise them under the rigid organisation of Trapattoni’s reign and raised the possibility that victory could already be beyond them, even though Sean St Ledger’s imminent equaliser briefly suggested otherwise.
The defender crept beyond Tottenham’s Vedran Corluka in the 18th minute to head an equaliser from Aiden McGeady’s free-kick and present Ireland with the chance to approach the game as they more routinely would, though the reality remains that that instant alone could prove to be the climax of an otherwise desperately disappointing Irish campaign.
It is against two such decorated opponents that they must accumulate sufficient points to proceed but if last night’s fixture shows Ireland’s true ability to deal with a quality attack then it is difficult to make a case for their future success.
The game remained open and without apparent shape and it was Croatia’s superior quality that benefited. Ireland looked unlikely to score but their opponents always threatened and just before half-time scored to take a lead that would not be relinquished.
Jelavic, capitalising upon a static Irish defence, delicately stroked the ball past Given before Croatia added another within five minutes when Mandzukic’s header struck the post before hitting Given and bouncing in. The own goal was as decisive as it was cruel, and may yet be so towards Ireland’s tournament as a whole.