Passing folly let us down on bad night's work


ANALYSIS: WE – THE Irish – are at the best party in Europe but it doesn’t look like we’ll be staying very long. The prospect of facing Spain next Thursday probably made the players want to talk about anything other than football last night.

But wait. A day or two’s rest, some encouraging words (hopefully not in Italian) and some changes in personnel will help raise spirits.

Croatia were technically superior to us and outplayed, outpassed and, most disappointingly of all, outfought us.

It was like watching Jack Charlton’s Ireland all over again. Just without the calibre of player. It’s a shame that Giovanni Trapattoni sees this way of playing as our only outlet.

I know it’s too late for a style alteration but avoiding the slackness at the start of each half and a fairer shake from the officials could help us give the world champions a run for their money.

Positives are nearly too few to mention.

We looked a threat in the early aerial battles. Fairly agricultural stuff that it was, but that’s the way we like it. This was the chink in our opponents’ armour that we never properly exploited.

No individual can be faulted although I was very concerned that Aiden McGeady never got the ball at his feet to run at their full back. He was gone, of course, by 54 minutes with Trapattoni going for broke by introducing Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox, but no James McClean, with Kevin Doyle also making way.

But it didn’t work. Croatia had it wrapped up after 47 minutes. They were all unlucky goals to concede in a scrappy game.

Goals do change games but how you decide to get them matters as well. We won’t score many, banging it up the field all night. All the Croats had to do was head it away. We have to try and play with more patience.

There was evidence of Trapattoni’s stated plan to deny them a clear path through the middle by dropping Doyle and Robbie Keane into their own half. The idea was to avoid a repeat of how easily Hungary cut us apart.

But Luka Modric was completely running the show by the half hour mark. Just like we feared he would.

I was in Gandsk doing commentary for the thrilling draw between Italy and Spain so witnessed first hand the technical brilliance of these giant footballing nations.

Croatia are not far behind them, certainly far superior to us, and it showed. We were given the runaround. Their second goal came after a sustained period of dominance. Officially, they had 58 per cent possession in the opening 45 minutes but it seemed higher.

Still, what ultimately proved the game’s defining moment – Jelavic’s goal to make it 2-1 – should have been disallowed for offside. How can the referee Bjorn Kuipers, his linesman and a fella behind the goal miss something so obvious?

Mr Kuipers also waved away a stonewall penalty when Robbie was fouled in the box on 62 minutes. That could have made it 3-2 and set up a grandstand finish.

But we must be honest with ourselves. The old concern about ball retention was evident from midway through the first half.

Thursday could be gruesome viewing.

Despite the miserable result, I had an unforgettable day in Gdansk, one of the more beautiful places football has ever taken me, watching the beautiful game at its most pure.

It was an instant classic, with both teams so sophisticated, a true duel of different footballing philosophies.

Once Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini got into their stride it was clear that Spain would not be able to dominate like many suspected. Also, the peerless Andrea Pirlo showed flashes of brilliance, particularly the perfect ball for Antonio Di Natale’s goal.

My head was still buzzing with excitement in the bowels of the Arena when Mario Mandzukic brought me back to reality just three minutes into the game in Poznan.

Presumably Trap will watch Brian McCarthy’s clips of Spain’s attacking play today. Their fullbacks provide all the width but Italy had plenty of joy down the left side. Their tackling, anticipation and organisation was of the highest quality, disrupting the mesmerising passing of the tiny Spaniards.

On last nights evidence, and going back to our Russia matches in qualifying, we will not be able to live with the pass and move game engineered so brilliantly by Xavi and Iniesta.

Trap will have noticed Cesare Prandelli changed his formation to 3-5-2 to combat the Spanish system. After the Hungary game he hinted at using only one striker. The now or never situation is upon us.

I also doubt Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan and Damien Duff have another 90 minutes running their hearts out without getting much of the ball as reward. Trap hasn’t used anyone else enough to turn away from them now – except Darron Gibson.

A monumental performance is needed to have any chance of salvaging a draw against Spain and finally enjoying this great party.

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