Croatia recorded a convincing 3-1 win against the Republic of Ireland in the second Group C encounter on Sunday. Slaven Bilic’s team had no difficulties against Giovanni Trapattoni’s underdogs. Croatia took an early lead when Mario Mandžukic found the back of the Irish net in the 3rd minute. Darijo Srna delivered a well-timed cross from the right side, which found Mandžukic unmarked in the box. Mandžukic stumbled before composing himself and positioning a header past a wrong-footed Shay Given. Mandžukic’s goal was the sixth fastest in the European Championship history. Russian Dmitri Kirichenko remains at the top of the list with his goal in the UEFA EURO 2004 which came after just 67 seconds.
The match was not the expected tight and cautious encounter as both sides played an entertaining end-to-end game in rainy conditions at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan. Sean St Ledger leveled the score in the 19th minute when the Leicester City FC defender received a freekick from the left side and flicked the ball past Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
But Croatia restored their lead moments before the half-time whistle. Nikica Jelavic took advantage of a defensive blunder by Stephen Ward and slotted home from a close range. Ireland’s hope to score the equalizer suffered a setback just two minutes into the second, when Mandžukic once again found the target for the Croatians. Mandžukic met a cross from the left side and his header hit the post before deflecting off Shay Given into the net. Croatia were lucky not to concede a penalty in the 63rd minute, when Gordon Schildenfeld brought down Irish legend Robbie Keane in the penalty box without any contact on the ball.
Ireland kept their heads high and displayed a postive fighting spirit till the last minute of the match. But Croatia were clever enough to manage their lead without wasting too much energy. Keith Andrews had the final chance of the match when the header by the Irishman missed the target by a whisker. Croatia secured their first three points in the continental finals and lead Group C ahead of Spain and Italy, who drew earlier on Sunday.
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