Already we are seeking miracles
EURO 2012 GROUP C REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 1 CROATIA 3:WE FORGOT. We forgot about how just how heartbreaking these Irish football nights can be. On a rainy night in Poznan, Croatia whistled three goals dusted with strangeness past Ireland to leave Giovanni Trapattoni’s team in a bleak place after their first game of Euro 2012. Beaten 3-1 and preparing to face Spain, the world champions, on Thursday. Already we are seeking minor miracles.
It was one of those nights when the magnitude of the occasion overshadowed the football which followed. Somewhere among the Irish flags draped over Poznan is a tricolour carrying a line from an old Pogues classic: You’re The Measure of My Dreams.
And the slow, passionate build up was everything the Irish players could have imagined. Even Trapattoni, who has seen it all, seemed moved.The reception they received was mind-blowing and the wildness of that greeting was still ringing in their ears when Mario Mandzukic stole a header which left us chasing the game.
As the night went on, Ireland were outmuscled and out-finessed and chased a moving shadow in Luka Modric, a footballer who seems lighter than air apart from those moments when he sets his mind on a stinging shot. Croatia had the luck but they also ran the show for much of the night. Mandzukic’s two headed goals proved a wrecking ball for Ireland – and he would send Giovanni Trapattoni flying as well after an accidental collision.
The saving grace of Sean St Ledger’s goal in the 19th minute – a typical full back’s goal, full of blustering heart and courage to get a head to Aidan McGeady’s precise free – made another one of those eternally glorious Irish football nights possible.
It was one of those goals that immediately entered the pantheon of sporting moments which seem less like goals than patriotic gestures. For those dizzying few moments, St Ledger found himself in the same company as Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan: he had scored a goal that was immediately branded into the mind of an entire generation.
But the goal was just a reprieve from a night that was one-way traffic. There were bad omens in Mandzukic’s early goal, one of those uncanny and maddeningly avoidable goals which seem to visit upon Donegal goalkeepers on these epochal nights.
Darijo Srna’s cross deflected of Keith Andrews and spun with infuriating perfection to Mandzukic who half stumbled towards the ball and sent a flat, basic header which wrong-footed Shay Given for a split second and found its way into the net.
“It was difficult,” Giovanni Trapattoni would say later.
“Tomorrow we will have time to clarify what happened in that first half. I said yesterday we were ready. But after two minutes we concede this goal. I think Shay not saw the ball because he has three or four players in front of him. And psychologically, we had a fear and had no reaction at this moment.”