Forward Mario Mandzukic scored two goals as Croatia posted an impressive 3-1 victory over Ireland in Group C action at the European championship Sunday in Poznan, Poland.
Forward Nikica Jelavic also scored for Croatia, which temporarily moves ahead of Spain and Italy in the group.
Even with famed Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni in their corner, the Irish couldn’t contain the impressive Croatian attack.
From the beginning, Croatia forced the play for most of the game and was rewarded with a victory.
The match couldn’t have gone off to a better start for Croatia. With the game barely three minutes old, Mandzukic converted a cross by sending a header past goalkeeper Shay Given.
Ireland quickly answered back in the 19th minute as defender Sean St Ledger got behind Croatia’s Vedran Corluka and headed a beautifully placed free kick over goalie Stipe Pletikosa.
But Croatia finished the first half with the lead, leaving the Irish to protest.
After finding free space behind Ireland’s defence, Nikica Jelavic chipped a shot past Given, putting Croatia in front 2-1 in the 43rd minute. While Ireland argued Jelavic was off-side, the goal stood up.
The beginning of the second half mirrored the first 45 minutes, one that featured another Mandzukic goal more than three minutes in.
The 26-year-old striker generated a second powerful header off a cross that beat a helpless Given.
Croatia dominated the play despite losing veteran striker Ivica Olic, who withdrew in the lead-up to the tournament with a left calf injury.
Corluka was cleared to play following a hamstring issue but the defender couldn’t prevent St Ledger from storming in and getting the equalizer in the first half.
Ireland's frustration only intensified in the second half when Croatia defender Gordon Schildenfeld took down Irish forward Robbie Keane around the penalty area yet no call was made.
What this result means
- With Spain and Italy battling to a draw, Croatia picks up a crucial three points in Group C. The Croatians looked impressive against Ireland but need to play even better in the next two games.
The winning goal
- Ireland couldn’t handle the scramble in the penalty area and paid for it dearly after Jelavic buried the winner.
Man of the match
- Mandzukic toyed with the Ireland defence, using his athleticism to score two strong headers to send Croatia to an important victory.
The Croatian perspective
- "I still can't believe what we just did. It was a fantastic victory. We knew it would be a tough match, but we responded excellently and we achieved a great victory." — Forward Mario Mandzukic.
The Irish perspective
"It was unlike us to concede the goals we conceded today. Croatia didn't split us open. From our point of view they were disappointing goals to concede." — Defender Sean St Ledger.