Euro 2012: Croatia crush Ireland in rousing start
Croatia piled on the misery for Ireland, beating them 3-1 in their Euro 2012 opener on Sunday in a stirring meeting that saw both teams battle hard from start to finish.
Croatia piled on the misery for Ireland, beating them 3-1 in their Euro 2012 opener on Sunday in a stirring meeting that saw both teams battle hard from start to finish. (All AP Images)
Aware that on the road ahead lie heavyweights Italy and champions Spain, both Ireland and Croatia had been clear that they needed a convincing start to the tournament.
Just three minutes in the match Wolfsburg striker Mario Mandzukic moved into position for a cross from captain Darijo Srna, stumbling briefly before steadying himself to beat Irish goalkeeper Shay Given with a powerful header.
Ireland had a chance to equalise after winning a free kick on the edge of the area in the 11th minute when Kevin Doyle (right) was fouled, but Keith Andrews's shot was blocked.
Eight minutes later, however, came a repeat performance, as Doyle was brought down by Vedran Corluka. Aiden McGeady stepped up to take the shot, firing the arching free kick to Sean St Ledger (right), who nodded past Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
The two teams continued to parry and thrust into the dying minutes of the half, until a touch by Stephen Ward put Nikica Jelavic onside, and he beat Given in the 43rd minute.
Three minutes after returning from the dressing room, Croatia made it 3-1 when Mandzukic fired towards the far corner of the net.
Mandzukic's shot hit the post, but bounced off the lunging Given and into the back of the net.
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will not be a happy man and the road ahead for his team gets even tougher.
A steward takes a man who got onto the pitch as Croatia head coach Slaven Bilic looks on during the match.