Croatia beats Ireland 3-1 in Euro 2012

Playing in a difficult group with Spain and Italy, it’s Croatia

at the top.

The Croats took advantage of a frail Ireland defense to win

their opening match at the European Championship, getting two goals

from Mario Mandzukic in a 3-1 victory on a rainy evening at the

Municipal Stadium.

”I still can’t believe what we just did. It was a fantastic

victory,” Mandzukic said. ”We knew it would be a tough match, but

we responded excellently and we achieved a great victory.”

Croatia now leads Group C with three points, while Spain and

Italy each have one point after their 1-1 draw in Gdansk. Ireland,

which is playing at a major tournament for the first time in 10

years, is last. The Croats next face Italy on Thursday.

”Probably one victory will be enough to go to the

quarterfinals,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said.

Croatia took the lead in the third minute when Mandzukic looped

a header past a diving Shay Given, but Ireland equalized in the

19th when Sean St. Ledger headed in Aiden McGeady’s free kick from

the left.

Nikica Jelavic put Croatia back in front in the 43rd minute,

scoring his first goal in a competitive match since he made his

international debut in 2009.

”The second goal was clearly offside,” Ireland coach Giovanni

Trapattoni said.

Mandzukic added the third in the 48th after his header from Ivan

Perisic’s cross bounced off the post and into the net off Given’s

head.

Croatia nearly made it 4-1 in the 77th when Ivan Rakitic’s shot

curled just wide of Given’s right hand post.

”Our coach showed us everything about the Irish team,”

Mandzukic said. ”We had all the information.”

The three goals were as many as Ireland had conceded in its

previous 14 games.

”It was unlike us to concede the goals we conceded today,” St.

Ledger said. ”Croatia didn’t split us open. From our point of view

they were disappointing goals to concede.”

Bilic reinforced his defense by playing captain Darijo Srna at

right back instead of midfield, and moving Vedran Corluka across to

center back.

”Since the first minute of the match, I was really sure and

confident that we are the better team on the pitch,” Bilic

said.

There were no surprises from Trapattoni, an Italian veteran who

had named his starting lineup days before the game.

”It’s always nice to get goals, but we lost the game,” St.

Ledger said. ”We need to move on now.”

Lineups:

Ireland: Shay Given; John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St.

Ledger, Stephen Ward; Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan,

Aiden McGeady (Simon Cox, 54); Robbie Keane (Shane Long, 75), Kevin

Doyle (Jon Walters, 53).

Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa; Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, Gordon

Schildenfeld, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic (Tomislav Dujmovic, 92),

Ognjen Vukojevic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic (Eduardo, 89); Nikica

Jelavic (Niko Kranjcar, 72), Mario Mandzukic.