(Please Note that the below views of the author are not necessarily the views of the author! This is a tongue in cheek report of the Eire-Croatia game, based on the sort of one eyed match reports you often read in match programmes or in local newspapers)
Ireland were cruelly denied an opening Euro 2012 win in Poznan last night. A combination of bad luck, poor referring and cheating meant the brave Irish finished the evening in 4th place in Group C. It will be particularly frustrating for Ireland as they showed throughout the game that they are comfortably the strongest team in the Group, however with 2 games left, they know that only 2 victories will secure their spot in the last 8.
The match started with an horrendous slice of bad luck for the Irish as Srna’s hopeful cross was deflected in by the oblivious Mandzukic. Shay Given made an heroic attempt to keep the ball out but the lucky ricochet completely wrong footed him and the ball rifled into the net.
Unperturbed, the Irish poured forward and had the Croats on the ropes for the next 20 minutes. Finally, they claimed a deserved equalizer when Corluka hacked down Kevin Doyle and from Aidan McGeady’s resultant cross, Sean “The Saint” St Ledger sent a bullet header into the net.
The floodgates appeared to be open, but the referee seemed intent of giving the Croats as many free kicks as possible. As a result, Ireland were unable to turn their superiority into goals. Croatian playmaker Luca Modric was reduced to chasing shadows as the world class midfield pairing of Andrews and Whelan gave him the run-around. Therefore it came as a complete shock when Croatia scored just before half time. Again, there was a large chunk of luck about the goal as Stephen Ward was clearly fouled as he attempted to clear; his effort fell to an offside Jelavic who scuffed a shot over Given to give Croatia a completely undeserved half time lead.
Shortly after the interval, disaster struck for the Irish and once again there was a huge slice of good fortune for the Croats. A soft header from Madsukic was easily covered by Given, but the ball took a bizarre deflection of the post and struck Given’s head before nestling in the net.
Lesser teams would have wilted but not the Irish. They piled on the pressure and Croatia had to resort to slick passing movements and narrow misses. Ireland suffered yet more misfortune, as Robbie Keane was hacked down in the area, only for the referee to wave play on. Had the penalty been awarded it would have been hard to have seen anything over than Ireland going on to win the game.
Ireland Coach Giovanni Trapattoni sent on 3 attacking options in the form of Long, Walters and Cox, but Croatia stood firm, greatly helped by some awful referring decisions and numerous lucky deflections. Man of the Match (and surely the leading contender for Man of the Tournament) Keith Andrews had a number of fantastic efforts on goal but Ireland’s luck was well and truly out. A stoppage time header seemed destined for the bottom corner but an inexplicable gust of wind sent the ball narrowly wide.
The final whistle saw looks of disbelief from the Irish players and supporters, whilst Croatia celebrated as is they’d won the trophy. The Irish can take heart from a fantastic display and Spain will be fearing the worst when the two sides meet on Thursday.