By Ciaran O Raghallaigh in Poznan | comment
This wasn’t meant to happen.
Take the bunting down, and wrap your telly with it until you can’t see anything.
Put it around the living room and pretend it’s a scene from CSI.
Make no mistake, this was a horror show. Murder on the grass floor.
Ireland’s style of play is a one-way street. And when that one-way street goes toward a cliff edge, there’s no way back.
Last night all of Ireland’s nightmares came true. No plan B of sufficient quality, no reverse.
The fans, incredibly, stood tall at the final whistle and belted out their anthems proudly.
They’re lucky they had a great night on Saturday night because it could be a week of sleepless ones ahead.
It all went wrong from the third minute when Mario Mandzukic angled his body and powered home a header that Shay Given just couldn’t keep out.
Hearts sank, but lifted for a while when Sean St Ledger outmuscled Vedran Corluka and nodded home an equaliser.
It was the only moment of cheer.
Nikica Jelavic pounced to add a second strike just before half time and Mandzukic hit a third moments after the restart.
Ireland needed to avoid defeat in this game to realistically aim for progression from Group C.
Instead, they now face Spain (on Thursday, June 14) and Italy (on Monday, June 18) knowing they must avoid defeat in both, and surely need to win one.
After watching their performance against Croatia, it’s hard to guarantee they’d avoid defeat even once.
“Croatia deserved to win because they were superior in midfield,” Giovanni Trapattoni admitted, leaving out the fact they were better up front and in defence too.
“Yes, we were a little bit unlucky but the first goal came from our mistake, our situation. Maybe we were a bit tense a this moment.
“Obviously the second goal was very important because it kicked us.”
The only thing Trap – who was more magnanimous in defeat than some expected, could hang his hat of hope on was that it’s not usually this bad.
“Our performance was not like the other performances,” he said, with some justification. “In many games we played better. In many games, we don’t concede a goal. We believe in our strength. We have to believe in what we did before.”
The sad fact is that what went before often appeared to defy analysis.
There’s only so many times Richard Dunne can go to the well of ridiculous bravery and dunk his head.
There’s only so many times Shay Given can appear to defy biology and save another goalbound shot.
There’s only so many times Giovanni Trapattoni can think not losing is good enough.
Perhaps it’s not even a night to go into tactics and philosophies. The bottom line is Ireland didn’t perform, individually or collectively, to the standards they’d reached before.
On a night like this, and with 25,000 heroes in the crowd, it was a tremendous shame.
“I was expecting this kind of result,” Slaven Bilic said, and while you wanted to fold the laptop like a paper airplane and launch it at him, it was hard to argue.
“If you look at the overall impression, we were a much better team. We knew everything about them. We knew we were better team. But you never know for sure.”
We do now.