Euro 2012 Social Match Preview: Ireland v Croatia
The Republic of Ireland get their Euro 2012 campaign underway on Sunday evening with a difficult opening group C game against Croatia in Poznan.
For Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland it will be their first game at the European championships since a side that was managed by Jack Charlton and featured greats like Paul McGrath, played at Euro ’88 in what was called at the time ‘West Germany’.
Slaven Bilic’s Croatia have themselves fared quite impressive over the last six years or so, proving a constant thorn in England’s side – who missed out on qualification for Euro 2008 after defeat at Wembley to Bilic’s men.
Former West Ham man Bilic has got Croatia playing an attacking brand of football, complimented by sound organisation and discipline alongside impressive technical ability. His statistics are just as impressive; since he took charge of the national team in 2006, Croatia have played 62 matches, winning 41, drawing 14 and losing seven.
Despite their record under Bilic, Croatia will hold no fear for the Irish. The last time the two teams met was in Dublin in August 2011, where they played out a 0-0 draw. Even more encouraging for Ireland is their recent record against Croatia, where they have only lost once in the last six meetings.
To try to add to that impressive run of form against Bilic and co, Ireland are being widely tipped to stay with the same XI that they used against Hungary in their final warm up game – with Shay Given, Glenn Whelan and John O’Shea set to shake off their respective knocks in time for the game.
The Irish are the firm underdogs but coach Trapattoni is not worried: “I think about what I'm going to eat tonight, not what I'll eat in three days. It's like the eve of the final match of the championship. Everyone is expecting victory and I'm thinking about mistakes that could lead to non-victory. That's my only, but great, worry. In Italy, we have a simple phrase: 'the ball is round.' With a little bit of fantasy, and sometimes a small mistake, it makes us believe in little things.”
Croatia however, have some slightly more serious problems as they look to halt what is now a 14-game unbeaten run for the Irish. Defender Sime Vrsaljko looks set to be drafted in to replace the injured Ivo Ilicevic, who has a calf problem. Alongside him, it remains to be seen if former Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka will be fit after a thigh strain.
43 year old Bilic was bullish in his appraisal of tonight’s opponents saying: “I follow the Irish team and I know everything about them. Their football is simple to analyse and I don't think there's any way they can surprise us. On the other hand, I don't think we can surprise them either. We have consistently been in the top 10 teams in the world, which is phenomenal for our country. We have missed only two tournaments, we are proud of this and we are respected, our opponents are sometimes shocked at how a small country we are.”
For both teams, their key men will be their strikers. A bold choice considering Luka Modric is on the pitch but with Ireland’s chasing in packs and working as a team to get Robbie Keane the ball, the focus will be on him to win them the game.
The same applies to Everton’s Nikica Jelavic, who in the absence of Ivica Olic and the inconsistent nature of Eduardo, will shoulder the burden of goal-scoring more or less alone – with Modric his main supply line.
Whatever happens in Poznan (and please don’t let it be the celebration) the neutrals among us are in for a fantastic games as both teams go for broke.
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