Croatia dealt a major blow to Ireland’s hopes of reaching the Euro quarters beating them 3-1 in their Group C opener here on Sunday, with Mario Mandzukic scoring a double.
Keenly aware that on the road ahead lie heavyweights Italy and defending European champions Spain, both Ireland and Croatia had been clear that they needed a convincing start to the tournament yesterday.
Just three minutes in, Wolfsburg striker Mandzukic moved into position for a cross from captain Darijo Srna, stumbling briefly before steadying himself to beat Irish goalkeeper Shay Given with a powerful header.
Ireland equalised through Sean St Ledger, but two minutes from the break, the Croats restored their lead. An unfortunate touch by Stephen Ward put Nikica Jelavic onside, and he beat Given.
Three minutes after the break, Croatia made it 3-1 when Mandzukic fired towards the far corner of the net.
The shot hit the post, but bounced off the lunging Given and into the back of the net.
Croatia's ecstatic fans let off flares to celebrate theit eam’s goals, despite appeals from the announcer, meaning the team looks set to be the latest to be fined by UEFA for the behaviour of its supporters at Euro 2012.Ireland and their supporters were furious in the 62nd minute when talismanic captain Robbie Keane was brought down from behind in the penalty area. But Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers refused to award a penalty.