Croatia have begun their Euro2012 campaign with a fairly comfortable 3-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Poznan tonight.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland side conceded sloppy goals to Slaven Bilic’s Croatia but the victors were in control throughout most of the 90 minutes to go top of Group C after one match.
Croatia took an early lead in rather soft fashion when Mario Mandzukic was left on his own to place his header inside Shay Given’s left post after a Darijo Srna cross deflected into his path. It was a very poor start for Ireland but 16 minutes later they found themselves back in the contest.
Aiden McGeady’s free-kick from the left flank was floated to the back post where Sean St Ledger managed to get goal-side of Vedran Corluka and slide the ball past Stipe Pletikosa with the help of his shoulder.
Ireland looked much better after their leveller but late in the half they were being pushed deeper and deeper and again found themselves behind when Nikica Jelavic pounced on a poor clearance from Stephen Ward to slot home under an advancing Given to make it 2-1 on the stroke of half-time.
Just over three minutes into the second half, Mandzukic grabbed his second when Ivan Perisic whipped in a dangerous ball from the left for the Wolfsburg striker to head on target again, this time the ball bouncing off the upright and in off the forehead of a flailing Given.
Ireland were unlucky not to have a penalty just after the hour-mark when Robbie Keane was hacked down by Gordon Schildenfeld whilst trying to control Keith Andrews’ chipped pass but referee Bjorn Kuipers waved away the Irish pleas.
In the 78th minute, Ivan Rakitic almost finished a great move from the Croatians when Srna cut back for him but his curling effort from just inside the area was agonisingly wide of the mark moments before Pletikosa safely held on to Andrews’ header from the centre of the box down the other end.
Andrews had a brilliant chance to get one back in stoppage time but put his free header from a corner inches wide of Pletikosa’s far post which really was the last roll of the dice for the Irish who will now need to regroup for their June 14 meeting with reigning champions Spain as group leaders Croatia prepare for Italy.
Euro2012 – Group C
Republic of Ireland: 1 (Sean St Ledger 19’)
Croatia: 3 (Mario Mandzukic 3’/48’, Nikica Jelavic 43’)
Municipal Stadium, Poznan
Yellow cards: REP - Keith Andrews 45+1’
CRO - Luka Modric 53’, Niko Kranjcar 84’