Soft goals sink sloppy Irish
10 Jun, Euro 2012 (Group C): Republic of Ireland 1, Croatia 3 (Poznan)
Ireland got exactly what they deserved in Poznan in their inaugural game of the 2012 European Championship – NOTHING. Of course, they were beaten by the better side on the night in the national colours of Croatia, but I can’t help feeling that they made it very easy for the Luka Modric-led team with three soft goals conceded at crucial times in the match.
Ireland started with the Giovanni Trapattoni trusted 4-4-2 line up. And although they were unbeaten in 14 games, it was obvious after only three minutes that it was going to take a momentous effort to make it to No.15. How the unchallenged Wolfsburg centre forward Mario Mandzukic had the time to place his soft-looking header beyond a scrambling Shay Given from 15 yards out is beyond even my football knowledge.
However, Ireland did get a foothold back in the game on 19 minutes, when Leicester City defender Sean St Ledger held off Vedran Corluka to glance a header past the scrambling keeper. 1-1, game on, or so I thought. Ireland pressed again but without any great authority or urgency when they should have done. Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff were being starved of the ball as Ireland played narrow in order to contain the more skilful Croatians, instead of pressing their own game.
In the 43rd minute, they went behind again and, this time, there was a shade of offside as Nikica Jelavic clipped one over the oncoming Given from a freak Stephen Ward misclearance to hand Croatia a deserved, if somewhat fortunate, half-time lead. Ireland needed to regroup and come out in the second period fighting, as we have seen many times before, but with 48 minutes on the clock the dream was all but over.
Croatia killed Ireland’s chances with another fortunate effort from the willing Mandzukic, who nodded the ball in off a post, on to Given’s head and into the back of the net for the luckiest of own goals. It was beginning to turn into one of those nights.
Trapattoni did make changes but again not game-changers as Kevin Doyle and McGeady were withdrawn for Simon Cox and Jon Walters after 54 minutes. How Darron Gibson and James McClean remained on the bench only Trapattoni knew.
Ireland had a clear shout for a penalty when Robbie Keane was upended by Gordon Schildenfeld in the box on 63 minutes but, not for the first time, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers gave nothing to the “Men in Green”. Shane Long came on for captain Keane on 74 minutes as Ireland finally showed a bit more of an attacking threat, with several shots from Keith Andrews that failed to hit the target.
But the game was slipping away. Ireland huffed and puffed until the end and their magnificent supporters in the stadium kept singing till the end and beyond. But when your luck is out, it’s out. A decade has come and gone since Ireland were last in a major championship finals and, just a mere 95 minutes later, they seemed to have thrown it all away.
Ireland really needed something in Poznan if they were to get out of this tough-looking group and it doesn’t get any easier as next up are world champions Spain on Thursday, with even the most ardent Irish fan now thinking that the game is up already.
Match rating (out of five): **
Also in Group C: Spain 1, Italy 1 (Gdansk)
Holders Spain were surprisingly held to a draw by Italy in Gdansk as their run of 14 successive wins came to an end. Italy went ahead early in the second half when substitute Antonio Di Natale cleverly drove home. However, three minutes later, Cesc Fabregas equalised from a David Silva pass.
Match rating: ***