The Republic of Ireland and Croatia will kick off their 2012 European Championships on Sunday at the Stadion Miejski (Poland). This is a match where both teams will be trying to get an upper hand, considering they have been placed in a group alongside defending champions Spain and 2006 World Cup winners Italy.
The Build Up:
Ireland - It has been a while since the Irish last qualified for a major competition. Their last proud moment was when they made it to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.
The main problem for the Irish is the lack of world class players in their squad. Apart from Shay Given (Aston Villa), Damien Duff (Fulham) and Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), who were all part of the 2002 World Cup squad, Ireland have no one to rely on. As a result, Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will be focused on creating a solid and hard-working team rather than relying solely on the heroics of three star players. Most importantly, he will have to train his side to be systematic, composed and disciplined during their games.
"I am not particularly excited, I'm a little tense. I want to keep a level of tension. If the manager doesn't keep the tension, the players can lose intensity. The manager needs to keep a positive tension," Sky Sports quoted the 73 year old coach as saying.
Croatia - The Croatians, on the other hand, are an extremely hard team to explain as they do not have a specific style or tactic. They tend to experiment as they progress through their games. This unorthodox style has, however, been very effective for them as they played some very impressive football (even though they finished second behind Greece) during qualifying for the 2012 Euros, scoring a total of 18 goals and conceding just seven.
In addition, they will have pleasant memories of European Championships in general, having put on a great performance in the 2008 edition in Austria and Switzerland, finishing at the top of a group with the Germans, Poland and co-hosts Austria in it. They were tragically knocked out, in the quarter-finals, by Turkey via a penalty shootout. Although the Croatian squad is not as talented as they were in 2008, they will be hoping to dazzle their opponents with quick counter attacking football. They could miss the talents of Niko Kovac, who has retired, but will hope the hard working Tomislav Dujmovic (Dynamo Moscow) can fill in. Unfortunately, there is a school of thought that believes he lacks the vision and positional intelligence of Kovac. In addition, central defenders Josip Šimunić(Dinamo Zagreb) and Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt) lack pace - a weakness the Irish will look to exploit.
Coach Slaven Bilic will depend on Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur) and Nikica Jelavić (Everton) to deliver the goods for Croatia.
The Republic of Ireland will be relieved to have two key players - goal keeper Given and defender John O'Shea (Sunderland) back for the first match, following concerns with respective injuries. Apart from Duff and Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), who will be looking to boost Ireland's wing play, Sunderland's 23 year old James McClean will also be hoping to earn a few minutes in the 2012 Euros following impressive performance in the Premier League. Trapattoni will also have to decide whether he wants to go with five midfielders or add another striker alongside former Tottenham man Robbie Keane.
Croatia, on the other hand, will be missing Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic, who has been ruled out due to a thigh problem. However, his place will be taken by in-form Everton man Nikica Jelavic. Dejan Lovren (Olympique Lyonnais) and Ivi Illicevic (Hamburg) have also been sidelined with injuries.
However, the good news for Bilic is that Bayer Leverkusen defender Vedran Corluka is expected to play after going through a late fitness test. This will mean Croatian skipper Dario Srna will be starting in the midfield rather than at right-back.
- The Republic of Ireland, apart from qualifying for this year's Euro, have only featured in the 1988 European Championships, where they were eliminated from the group stages
- The Irishmen scored more goals from set pieces (10) than any team during the qualifying stages
- Bilic will be leaving the Croatian national side after the tournament, to join Russian club Lokomtiv Moscow
- In the last six games between these two sides, Ireland have won twice, Croatia once and three have ended in draws.
Republic of Ireland: Given; O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady; Long, Keane.
Croatia: Pletikosa; Corluka, Schildenfeld, Simunic, Strinic; Srna, Modric, Rakitic, Pranjic; Mandzukic, Jelavic
Where to Watch Live:
You can follow the game live on iTV 1 and iTV 1 HD, as well as BBC Radio Five and the official UEFA Web site. Catch the highlights on BBC One and the BBC Sport Web site.