Republic of Ireland vs. Croatia: 5 Key Matchups in Euro 2012 Opener

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Republic of Ireland vs. Croatia: 5 Key Matchups in Euro 2012 Opener
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The boys (in green) are back in town, the boys (in green) are back in toooooowown...

After a 24-year absence, the Republic of Ireland is back in the European finals. The last time the Boys In Green danced with Europe's finest was 1988. 

Just to give you an idea for how long ago that really was, in the same summer the Democratic National Convention nominated Michael Dukakis as its nominee, Microsoft released Windows 2.1 and the Soviet Union was still the Soviet Freakin' Union.

First up is Croatia, probably the easiest of Ireland's three opponents—unless Italy withdraws from the tournament, because Spain is one of the favorites to win the whole shebang.

That said, Croatia is no lightweight. They're a top-10 team in the world with an incredible goalkeeper in Stipe Pletikosa, an almost mechanically efficient midfield captained by Tottenham Hotspur Luka Modric and one of the most experienced groups of forwards in the world.

It's not going to be easy for Ireland to get a good result against The Blazers but if there's an opponent where they're going to scratch out a win, it'll be against these guys.

How will they do it? By winning individual matchups; the following are the most important in their Euro 2012 opener Sunday.

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