Two goals from Mario Mandzukic helped put Croatia on top of Group C in an excellent display against a very lacklustre Ireland team in Poznan.
The Croatian’s stamped their authority on the game just two minutes into the tie after Mandzukic capitalised on an eighteen yard box scramble, picking himself up and powering a header past Shay Given from fifteen yards out.
Ireland rallied their troops and managed an equaliser from the head of Leicester defender Sean St. Ledger nineteen minutes into the game. The centre back eluded the defensive efforts of Vedran Corluka to knock in a header on the far post from an Aiden McGeady free kick.
Croatia might’ve felt a bit hard done by conceding the goal after some defenders hesitated upon hearing what appeared to be the referee’s whistle but actually originated from the crowd. The whistle-blower was rife throughout the half but thankfully was dealt with during the break.
Ivan Perisic threatened the Irish goal continually with some excellent strikes reminiscent of his point winning volley for Borussia Dortmund against Arsenal in the Champions League but to no avail.
However Croatia regained the lead before the end of the half. From what appeared to be a clearly offside position, Nikica Jelavic was the man who made the most of some woeful Irish defending. But it was an excellent decision by the linesman to allow the goal after noticing the last touch of the ball which opened Jelavic’s chance was from Ireland’s Stephen Ward.
And it was Mandzukic who tied things up for Croatia in similar fashion to the first half. Three minutes into the second half the former Wolfsburg striker struck the post with his header but with a stroke of luck the ball rebounded off the head of Shay Given and into the net.
It was nothing more than Mandzukic deserved who had an excellent game from Croatia and will have his name firmly in the shop window for the coming season after his release from Wolfsburg.
The Ireland comeback was spearheaded by some well taken set pieces with Richard Dunne and Keith Andrews’ headed efforts both coming very close to pegging the difference back to one but with no end result.
This loss means it’ll be an uphill battle for the Irish to have any chance of qualifying for the latter stages with games against World Champions Spain next and finishing the round of group games against Italy.
Croatia however find themselves sitting pretty on top of Group C and this early win could be vital to securing their place in the quarter finals provided at least a point can be taken from Italy or Spain.
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