Republic of Ireland vs. Croatia: 6 Things We Learned from Euro 2012 Group C Game
It's been 24 years since the Irish danced with the big boys of Europe, and after Sunday night's performance against Croatia, some are wondering how the absence from the Euro finals tournament wasn't extended.
The Irish forwards started the night with a ton of energy, but the same couldn't be said for the defenders or goalkeeper. Given was, to put it mildly, rusty as he was slow to react to a shot from Croatia's Mario Mandzukic, conceding a goal in the first three minutes of the match.
Ireland, however, came back in the 19th minute with an equalizer when Aiden McGeady connected with Sean St. Ledger on an early set piece.
But the draw didn't last long. Nikica Jelavic scored at the end of the first half and then Mandzukic scored his second of the match to make it 3-1 in the 48th minute.
It was a dark day in pubs all over Dublin, but even though the Irish lost 3-1 in their Group C opener, there's still hope. The only way that hope will be realized is by examining the takeaways and improving on what went horribly, horribly wrong.
That said, I give you the six most important things we learned from Ireland's 3-1 loss to Croatia.
The Irish Get No Respect!
Even before the whistle blew and the match kicked off, we learned that Ireland is going to have to earn every bit of respect they get in this summer's tournament.
In the pre-game show on ESPN, Bob Ley was sitting down with Tommy Smyth, Alexi Lalas and Kasey Keller. Ley asked a simple question—who have you got for the Ireland vs. Croatia match?
Smyth answered that he thought the Irish would win "one to nil."
Lalas quickly responded that he thinks Ireland is going to get "spanked."
In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, "I get no respect!"
Trap's No Conservative
With the way the Republic of Ireland played during their Euro 2012 qualification, you'd have thought Trapattoni would have taken the first half to play a game of possession and looked for a lucky bounce near Croatia's goal in the last minutes of the match.
But Ireland came out of the gate with reckless abandon, streaking down the left sideline and attacking the Croat defense.
It cost Ireland an absolute mess of a goal in the third minute, but it also allowed for a set piece to be awarded that allowed for the equalizing goal in the 19th minute.
Trap showed his cards early—the Boys In Green were going to live and die by an up-tempo game marked by high energy and physical play.
Still Got It With Set Pieces
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The Republic of Ireland scored 10 goals off set pieces in Euro 2012 qualification, the most of any country, and it seemed to be the savior in an opening match that looked as though it was going to be all Croatia.
The first chance of real potential came in the 12th minute with a foul occurring inches outside Croatia's penalty area. Keith Andrews, however, could only rocket a shot into an awaiting wall of Croat defenders.
But in the 19th minute, Aiden McGeady put in a beautiful cross and Sean St. Ledger headed a ball that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
It was a much-needed goal for the Irish, helping keep hope alive for the Boys In Green—at least for a little while.
Shay Given Was Rusty
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Whether you want to blame the inferior competition in Euro 2012 qualification or the nine months between the last competitive match and Sunday's match against Croatia, one thing has to be said—Shay Given was rusty.
He slipped at Croatia's first goal and although he made a couple of good saves, he was slow to get to the shots that mattered.
Given was worst player on the pitch for either side which is a shame given his penchant for carrying a lackluster Irish offense through qualifying. If Ireland is to make it through to the quarterfinals, Given has to step up in a big way.
However, Given's not the only Boy In Green who needs to prove it wasn't just luck that got the Irish to the Euro finals...
Midfield Needs Some Work
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Where do I begin?
Glenn Whelan rarely made a forward pass, opting always for the safe option to his left or right flank.
Keith Andrews let Croatia's Luka Modric get the better of him, both in skill and physical play.
Damien Duff (when he was actually near the play) held the ball longer than he should have, keeping teammates out of the play.
Aiden McGeady was entirely underwhelming, letting his inexperience show as he failed to use his speed to lose the marking of Darijo Srna.
Ireland held possession for only 40 percent of the match and that's just not going to cut it against opponents Spain and Italy. The midfield has got to work better together in their next two matches, distributing the ball and catching opponents unaware, rather than holding on to it and trying to make plays in one-on-one opportunities.
Ireland Will Need to Beat Spain
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With the win and a two-goal advantage, Croatia has a huge lead in Group C. Conversely, with the only loss and a two-goal deficit, Ireland is (to put it nicely) absolutely trailing.
A win against Spain is the only thing that will keep the Irish in the running for the quarterfinals, as no matter what happens between Italy and Croatia on Thursday will result in the second-place team having at least two points.
The Irish will need three points against Spain for their last group match against Italy to mean anything.