So the big day is finally here. It has been a long, long time coming. The eyes of the football world will all be on Ireland and Croatia tonight. Ireland's biggest football match in 10 years is only hours away. The scene is set. Bring it on!
Lets get one thing straight, the Irish team are not here to make up the numbers. We are here to win and the team firmly believe they can go far in this tournament. And why can't they? That is the mentality that Trapattoni has instilled into the team.
There is no doubting the size of the task that awaits Ireland tonight. Croatia's key man is, of course, Luka Modric. He pulls the strings for the team and scores more than his fair share of goals. If he is afforded the same time and space on the ball that the Hungarians were last week then there is no doubt he will score. The key to getting something out of tonight will be making sure that he is not allowed to play his natural game. Pressing and pressuring the opposition and unsettling them will be the main task of the midfield duo of Andrews and Whelan. Keane and Doyle will be required to drop deeper to help out the midfield with this task as well. Another towering performace from the Iron Curtain Richard Dunne won't hurt Ireland's chances either.
Croatia appear to be vulnerable in defence and finished second in their qualifying group behind Greece. Croatia have conceded more goals than Ireland in recent months and I think that Ireland will get a few chances against them. Our set-pieces will be crucial in creating most of our scoring chances.
Doyle v Long
Barring a last minute change by Trap it seems certain that Doyle will start up front against Croatia along with Robbie Keane. Doyle is just off the back of a poor season and despite appearing to be showing better form for Ireland than for Wolves in the recent warm-up matches, there is a feeling amongst many fans that Long should start instead of him. Long has looked very sharp lately and it seems the injury he sustained in the early part of the season is well behind him now. The Irish squad contains probably the strongest set of forwards that I can remember. Trap has very good options to bring on and I expect Long or Walters to come off the bench tonight and make a significant impact when they do.
I believe that if Ireland can contain the midfield, and learn the lessons from the last Monday's match against Hungary, we can have a real chance of beating Croatia. I think that we will create chances, and we will have a few set-piece routines kept up our sleeve, especially for tonight. The big fear is that if we let Croatia, and Modric, get a grip of the game they could run riot. The Irish team will be fresh and focussed and will all know their task. I don't think that they will let Croatia settle and I predict that we will win 1-0.
As usual the Irish fans have turned out in massive numbers and it will be a sight to behold in the stadium tonight before kick off. It really is incredible how many Irish people travel to major football tournaments. We will turn tonight's match into a home game, which should be a big boost to the team. Everyone will be getting behind the lads tonight and we will be making our presence felt. There have been a good few Croatian fans around Poznan but they are outnumbered by at least 10-1 by the Irish. There are Irish absolutely everywhere and everyone was is in great form last night in Poznan. The main square in Poznan, Stare Miasto was like something out of Oxegen and drinking went on until the early hours of the morning.
We travel in hope more than expectation. Most fans I've been talking to understand the limitations of our squad and are happy to have a good time despite what happens over the next ten days. However, I think that Ireland have it in them to win tonight and take a giant step towards the quarter-finals. It's time to believe!
In the latest installment of Irish football songs I have chosen probably the most famous song of them all. I think the occasion warrent's it. This will be sung into the wee small hours if we can do the business tonight. Enjoy.