Well that did not turn out too well.
After all that build up and all the excitement the Irish team failed to deliver on the biggest stage. To say that the fans were disappointed would be an understatement. So where did it all go wrong? I think Slaven Bilic really had his homework done on the Irish team. Croatia certainly had the measure of us. They scored from two corners - it’s unusual for an Irish team under Trapattoni to concede goals like this. Ireland were sloppy on the ball and individual mistakes were punished badly. Despite the element of luck with Croatia's first and second goals, and the performance of the match officials (how they didn't give offside to Jelavic's goal and Robbie Keane's penalty claim is beyond me), I think they fully deserved the win and I felt they had another goal in them if they required it. Luka Modric pulled the strings in midfield, and it was a pleasure to see him play. He is such an intelligent player off the ball and links everything together. He often dropped deep last night to receive the ball and was always at the heart of Croatia's attacks. He is able to beat a man, has great balance, a good strike and is a fine passer of the ball. He looked sharp and hungry. At least the Irish team have got some practice for what they can expect against Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas, Silva et al this Thursday!
Ireland's play was all too predictable, launching long balls up to the forward players with very little in terms of creative play. Croatia looked comfortable for most of the game and dominated possession. The Irish never gave up and, if we had made it 3-2 with 10 or 15 minutes to play, it would have been an interesting conclusion to the match, but Croatia always seemed in full control from 3-1 up.
The Boys in Green
Walking into the stadium in Poznan was an amazing experience. We have waited so long to see Ireland on this stage again. To see and hear 25,000 Irish fans that had made the trip over was incredible. The atmosphere was electric. The fans were in full voice and, despite the performance and result, we roared on the team for the 90 minutes. I've been to a lot of Ireland games over the years and the atmosphere before the match was the best I have ever seen. To be fair to the Croatians, they travelled in big numbers as well and certainly made their presence felt. There was good craic between both sets of fans before the game. There was such a sense of optimism throughout the day and it was heartbreaking that things didn't work out as well all hoped they would. Walking around Poznan today, there were many Irish fans departing for Gdansk or back home to Ireland and spirits were noticeably muted. Croatia was the match we had to get something out of. Saying that, I have no doubt that we will all start to believe again over the next few days that we can get four points from the next two matches and get through to the quarter-finals! We're nothing if not optimistic!
Onwards and upwards
We have to put the Croatia match behind us and look ahead to the next game. There is no use in being negative. We have to believe that we can get something out of the Spain game. It will be a minor miracle if we do of course. Having read about the Spain v Italy match (I missed it due to travelling to the stadium in Poznan) it seemed that it was match of the highest quality: two technically brilliant footballing powerhouses coming together with two distinctive styles. Both goals were fantastic and, despite Italy's domestic football problems, they seem well up for this tournament. It could make for very grim viewing over the next week but we have to believe that we can achieve the impossible. What good is it to admit defeat? That would be as good as throwing in the towel and going home. I wrote on this blog before that, if we lost to Croatia, we may as well pack our bags. We may not get anything out of the next two games but we have to try. Positives must be found from the first match and built on and I think Trap should (and I believe will) shake up the team. We might play against Spain with a five-man midfield and with one or two changes in personnel. Aiden McGeady and Kevin Doyle seem the most likely to be replaced. I think Jon Walters should start the next game as I thought he did okay when he came on last night. He is strong and fast, and has good feet and could unsettle the Spanish defence. Trapattoni will have a job on his hands in trying to raise his team's spirits, but it has been done before. We went to Paris in November 2009 needing to win and the team put in the performance of their lives and played France off the park for most of the match. We need to recreate that same belief, that same hunger, that same desire that we can go out and compete against the best and beat the best.