Croatia made a confident start to Group C by sweeping Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland aside 3-1 with a Mario Mandzukic brace.
The Irish opened their Euro 2012 experience in Italy’s Group C under driving rain. Both sides had injury concerns for Shay Given and Vedran Corluka shaken off before the match. The Irish were unbeaten in 14 games, keeping 11 clean sheets, under Trap’s old-style tactical approach and made their return to a major tournament after 10 years.
However, it was the worst possible start for Trap, as Croatia hit the back of the net after two and a half minutes. Mandzukic managed to steer a totally free header in at the near post when Given was wrong-footed.
Ireland equalised from a free kick, as Sean St Ledger rose above the crowd for a glancing header from six yards, going round the back of a distracted Corluka.
Given had to beat away an Ivan Perisic screamer from the D and took the sting out of a Luka Modric snapshot.
Croatia poured on pressure and before the break managed to restore their advantage. A lucky ricochet off an Irish shin broke for Nikica Jelavic, allowing him to spring the offside trap and prod in with the outside of his foot as Given rushed off the line.
There was almost a third in stoppages when Ivan Rakitic nodded just over the bar.
Ireland really were unlucky in this match, as straight after the restart a glancing Mandzukic header hit the upright and ricocheted in off Given’s head. There was nothing the goalkeeper could do once it came off the woodwork.
Robbie Keane had penalty appeals for a clumsy tackle from behind by Gordon Schildenfeld, but the referee waved play on. It was a strong shout, as the defender certainly did not get the ball.
Rakitic flashed a fine curler just past the post after Darijo Srna pulled back to the edge of the box. At the other end, Damien Duff’s cross found a Keith Andrews header that Stipe Pletikosa smothered on the ground.
Andrews threatened again moments later with a powerful angled drive that was wide of the far post. In stoppages an Andrews free header from a Duff corner curled inches wide of the far post.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia
Scorers: Mandzukic 3, 49 (C), St Ledger 19 (I), Jelavic 43 (C)
Republic of Ireland: Given; O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; McGeady (Cox 54), Whelan, Andrews, Duff; Doyle (Walters 54), Keane (Long 75)
Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Vukojevic; Rakitic (Dujmovic 93), Modric, Perisic (Eduardo 89); Mandzukic, Jelavic (Kranjcar 72)
Ref: Kuipers (Hol)