Mandzukic double sends Croatia on top of Group C

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Mandzukic double sends Croatia on top of Group C
Poznan, Jun 11: Euro 2012 Group C had an unlikely candidate at the top as Croatia sweeped past Republic of Ireland after Spain and Italy managed to only share points in their opening encounter.

Mario Mandzukic scored a double to help Croatia ease past Ireland with a 3-1 victory at the Poznan Municipal Stadium in Poznan.

Mandzukic's early goal set the tone for Slaven Bilic's side to overpower the Boys in Green. Three minutes into the game, Manduzic's perfect header beat Irish stretched goal keeper Shay Given. Ireland hit back in the 19th minute with Aiden McGeady's cross finding Sean St. Ledger head inside the six-yard box.

But Giovanni Trapattoni's men were blown away when Nikica Jelevic scored from close range just before the half time, but the Everton striker was clearly offside. Croatia's free-flowing attacking football continued in the second half as Mandzukic grabbed another header from a left-wing cross which hits the post but ends in the back of the net off Given's head.

Trapattoni's four-year reign witnessed Ireland's worst performance but credit to Croatia's efficient and attractive style of passing which could also seem challenging for Group opponents Spain and Italy. Left with a daunting task of facing Spain, the Irish side have to come up with a point to stay alive.

Croatia's captain Darijo Srna flew past the right channel and delivered a curling cross which clipped left-back Stephen Ward and deflected towards Mandzukic. The striker slipped but managed a power-less and accurate header towards the left corner. Given scrammbled to his left but failed to keep the ball out.

Full-backs Srna and Ivan Strinic continuously bombarded the flanks with play-maker Luka Modric and midfielder Ivan Rakitic switching play to either sides of the field. Ireland could not get out of their own half but long balls towards Kevin Doyle threatened the shaky Croatian backline.

Defender Vedran Corluka conceded a free kick on the left-hand side near the penatly area. Winger Aiden McGeady's curling cross found centre-back St. Ledger who headed home from close range.

Croatia were undoutedly the better side after Ireland equalised on the 20-minute mark. Given denied two blistering shots from the Croat strikers but disaster struck when Ward sliced the ball towards Jelevic who calmly finished past Given.

Ireland were shattered after the first half break when Mandzukic's headed home from a Ivan Perisic's cross. The header was off the post and sneaked in after hitting Given's head. The goal put Ireland on the backfoot and had no reply to Croatia's ability to pass smoothly.

Three points had been secured well in advance for Croatia, who until the 60-minute mark dominated possession and moved forward with confidence. Irish found their feet rather too late trying to propell long passes forward to substitutes Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox.

The Croats denied any easy chance but looked dangerous only through set-pieces. During the long five-minute injury time, Keith Andrews came inches closer to get one back when his header was a whisker away from left side post.

Croatia's flair and style sends them right on top of Group C which also boasts the likes of Italy and Spain who earlier settled for a 1-1 draw.

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