Having spent the past week listening to hosts and callers on TalkSport building up the hopes of Republic of Ireland’s they had their hearts broken this evening with a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of Slaven Bilic’s Croatia.
I won’t deny that I envisaged a bigger scoreline after Mario Mandzukic’s long range header gave Croatia a lead inside 3 minutes. Ireland fought their way back and equalised on 19 minutes through Sean St Ledger’s from a free kick.
Set pieces were Ireland’s biggest threat in this game but they were few and far between. Keith Andrew’s headed one narrowly wide just before the end during a game that Stipe Pletikosa was rarely threatened.
Croatia had 55% of the possession and used it to fire in 15 shots on Shay Given’s goal. 5 of these were on target, in which Mario Mandzukic scored with both of his shots. At the opposite end, Ireland managed 13 shots, although only 3 of these on target.
Robbie Keane failed to get a shot in all game before being substituted with 15 minutes to go. The former Premier League striker had a legitimate penalty claim waved away at 1-3. The closest Giovanni Trapattoni’s side came to testing Pletikosa in the second half.
Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic controlled the game from midfield. Completing 94% and 86% of their passes respectively, they also helped out their defence which had been questioned heading into the game. Modric made 3 interceptions and 2 tackles, whilst Perisic added 2 of each.
I was in heaven to find such good odds on the Croatians, who even at 1-1 shortly before half time always looked like winning this game. I’m still unconvinced they’ll go far in this competition, but they’re well-above the quality of the Republic of Ireland, who came through the playoffs against 9-man Estonia.
Spain are up next for Ireland and after struggling against a side that liked to retain possession and play short passes they’ll be facing the best team in the world at it on Thursday. Spain were a bit odd not to play a striker from the start in their 1-1 draw with Italy earlier today. Cesc Fabregas was the furthest forward and ended up scoring the equaliser. He criticised the pitch after the game.
Once Spain brought Fernando Torres on as they pushed for a winning goal the Chelsea striker had two great opportunities but failed to take either. If either he or Fernando Llorente start against Ireland you can expect them to see several chances. The quick passing of Spain, with the likes of David Silva and Andres Iniesta who looked threatening today have the potential to rip the Irish defence apart.
I picture the quick feet and nimble movement of Spain twisting the Irish defence apart, finding themselves with numerous chances on Shay Given’s goal and potentially winning a penalty or two off the likes of Richard Dunne.