Euro 2012: Road gets steep for Ireland
Ireland 3-1 defeat to Croatia in their opening game of the European Championship leaves Ireland in a perilous position. Ireland are now undoubtedly facing an uphill battle to qualify from the group. Last night’s performance was flat and uninspiring and failed to live up to the hype of a nation.
It took Croatia only three minutes to silence the noisy Irish fans. Mandzukic guided a header into the corner and although Shay Given got finger tips to the ball he couldn’t keep it out. Trapattoni, the Ireland manager, will be disappointed that the marking wasn’t tight enough and it was frustrating to watch Andrews let the ball sail past him assuming his keeper had it. Despite such a deflating early goal, the Irish team rallied well and their response was admirable. The team looked comfortable on the ball and passed it around nicely. In the nineteenth minute they got their just rewards when McGeady whipped in a great cross from a free kick near the touch line and St. Ledger was on hand at the back post to flick it in superbly past the helpless keeper.
Even with St. Ledger scoring there was to be no miracle. Ireland slacked off after the goal and Croatia took advantage. Croatia gradually began to dominate the game and it was becoming obvious that Ireland would be doing well to reach the half time break with the scores level. Unfortunately they couldn’t as two minutes before the interval the ball broke to Everton’s Nikica Jelavic and with one touch he stroked the ball past Given. The goal, however, was controversial as it appeared that Ward was fouled as he knocked the ball back. Ireland protested heavily but to no avail and the goal stood.
Things didn’t get much better after the break and again, just minutes after the restart, Croatia had extended their lead; once again with a hint of fortune. Mandzukic met a good cross with his head and steered it onto the far post before it bounced out and hit a diving Shay Given on the head and rebounded into his own net. Trapattoni uncharacteristically made an early double change with Cox and Walters coming on but they failed to really influence the game. Ireland seemed to lack ideas when attacking and struggled to break down Croatia’s solid defence. Ireland did have a stone wall penalty denied to them as Schildenfeld clearly fouled Keane on the edge of the box but once again the referee waved away Irish appeals. Long replaced Keane towards the end but again he had little impact. Ireland huffed and puffed in the closing minutes and had a few half chances, the best of which fell to Andrews, but he failed to make them count.
Despite Croatia’s goals having an element of fortune about them they were marginally the better side and deserved the win. They, however, did not look spectacular and Ireland will feel this was a missed opportunity. The challenge now facing Ireland is enormous. Next up on Thursday night is World champions and defending European champions Spain and then it’s four time World Cup winners Italy. The road to Poland was rocky; the route to the knock out stage seems impassable.
Patrick Finbar Craig
Posted by Patrick finbar Craig on at 11:39 pm.
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