Poznan - Croatia made a flying start to Uefa Euro 2012™ after pouncing
on sloppy defending to beat Ireland 3-1 in their Group C opener on
Ireland, whose 14-match unbeaten run came to an end, could not have made
a worse start to their first major tournament for 10 years as they
allowed off-balance Mario Mandzukic too much space to head Croatia ahead
after three minutes.
Sean St Ledger headed Ireland level after 19 minutes but Croatia
regained the lead three minutes before the break when Nikica Jelavic was
left alone to prod the ball past goalkeeper Shay Given with Ireland
appealing in vain for offside.
A unlucky Given own goal at the start of the second half effectively
ended Ireland's chances and put Croatia top of Group C after Spain and
Italy drew 1-1 earlier in Gdansk.
"It was very important that we scored an early goal, they are really good fighters, it wasn't that easy," Mandzukovic said.
St Ledger rued the concession of sloppy goals.
"Unlike us," he said. "We are usually pretty tight. We knew in the
second half we had to come out. The next goal was going to be important
and they got it.
"When you are 3-1 down against a side like Croatia it is always going to
be tough. They were poor goals to concede," St Ledger added.
Croatia could be in trouble after their fans celebrated their second goal by letting off firecrackers and flares.
Ireland's 73-year-old coach Giovanni Trapattoni had hoped to frustrate
Croatia but that plan was blown apart with an odd early goal.
Mandzukic, who had stumbled from his knees and was unmarked, got up just
in time to head Darijo Srna's cross from the right past a stranded
However, Ireland regrouped well with Damian Duff hooking a shot wide and
Keith Andrews wasting a great chance by firing into the wall after a
They levelled in the 19th minute when Aiden McGeady floated a long free
kick over from the left and St Leger at the far post got ahead of Vedran
Corluka to head the equaliser.
The game then became bogged down in midfield with technically-limited
Ireland struggling to play the ball out of defence and Croatia also
But, with playmaker Luka Modric coming to life, Croatian began to play more thoughtful football and looked more threatening.
Ivan Perisic had a powerful drive parried by Given and volleyed wide
again from just outside the area before they regained the lead with more
Modric's low pass hit two Irish defenders on its way through the defence
and landed at the feet of in-form striker Jelavic who diverted it past
Croatia started the second half in the same way they began the first, an
excellent build-up ending with Perisic crossing the ball into the area.
Mandzukic met it with a header, the ball hit the post and ricocheted against the hapless Given and into the net.
Ireland fought on but the task looked too much for them and they must
now beat at least one of Spain or Italy to have any chance of