Ciaran Bonass talks us through the highlights of an eventful Group C game from Poznan which finished Republic of Ireland 1 Croatia 3.
The origin of Murphy’s Law is a somewhat ambiguous one but it’s definitely nowhere near as Irish as is sounds, although it was more than fitting to describe the fortunes of Giovanni Trapattoni’s side against Croatia as they went down 3-1 on a rainy night in Poznan.
Equally as crushing as the nature of the Croats three goals were to Ireland’s chances of taking something from the game was the timing of their concession, with Mario Mandzukic netting at the beginning of both halves and Nikica Jelavic prodding past Shay Given in injury time at the end of the first period after Sean St Ledger’s goal had restored parity and looked likely to send the teams in level at the break.
It should not detract from the fact that it was unquestionably the better team who won and that in Luka Modric Croatia have a player in midfield who effortlessly displays what this Irish team is so desperately lacking when in possession but there could also be little argument that two huge decisions had gone in favour of Slaven Bilic’s side. The first point of contention for the Irish players centred around Jelavic’s goal which was taken with aplomb by the Everton striker as he nonchalantly converted when put clear by Stephen Ward’s deflected clearance, but the defender was clipped from behind as he connected with the ball. It was easy to sympathise with the Wolves player, who made a good point regarding the proximity of the referee to the incident and, as Ward later said, “the other guys, on the goal line, this is supposed to be the sort of thing they brought them in for.”
The extra officials introduced by UEFA for this tournament were also conspicuous in their indecision over two blatant penalties they failed to award to Holland in the 1-0 loss to Denmark that could cost the Dutch dearly in their attempts to qualify for the knockout stages and it must be hoped that such issues aren’t regular talking points throughout the competition. Ireland’s other moment of irritation was also in relation a penalty incident when Robbie Keane appeared to be scythed down from behind just after the hour mark, but Trapattoni’s charges had succumbed to a third goal by that point when Mandzukic’s header had rebounded off the post and then Given before rolling over the line to give Croatia a two-goal cushion they rarely looked like surrendering before or after those penalty appeals.
The Irish goalkeeper’s unfortunate involvement in that goal may yet see Mandzukic removed from his unlikely position at the top of the early goalscorer’s charts alongside Russia’s Alan Dgazoev but Given won’t want to see too many replays of the Wolfsburg striker’s first when a tame, if accurate, header spun in from about 16 yards out and question marks will remain over the Aston Villa stopper’s fitness from the outset.
Following on from the early frontrunner for game of the tournament which saw Italy and Spain play out a gripping 1-1 draw the win puts Croatia top of Group C, and in with a great chance of upsetting the odds to qualify at the expense of the more illustrious opponents they will now face. For Ireland their dream quickly looks to have become a nightmare and they face a massive uphill struggle from here on in.