05.09.1998 at 15:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
2 - 0
Referee: Vitor Manuel Melo Pereira (Por)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Jason Mc Ateer
Ladic (Croatia Zagreb),
Simic (Croatia Zagreb),
Stimac (Derby County), Asanovic (panathinaikos), Maric (Croatia Zagreb),
Boban (AC Milan),
Soldo (VfB Stuttgart),
Jurcic (Croatia Zagreb),
Jarni (Real Madrid).
Mario Stanic 70 mins;
Igor Pamic 72 mins;
Saturday, September 5th, 1998
Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Ireland 2 (Irwin (pen), Roy Keane)
A result to savour on a day of happy spirits at Lansdowne Road was enhanced by a string of encouraging individual displays.
Some problems remain, of course, but Ireland's success in the opening round of the European Championship owed much to a positive team selection and a collectively aggressive approach.
The dismissal of two Croatia players was a measure of the frustration felt by the highly-rated visitors as Ireland showed the will and the wit to capitalise upon their lack of professionalism.
Croatia, predictably, suffered a reaction to their World Cup heroics and were undoubtedly limited by the absence of their top three strikers - Suker, Boksic and Vlaovic.
Ireland showed cool calculation as they confidently executed an ambitious game plan - striking a high tempo immediately in search of a psychologically important early strike and building on that advantage by consistently adjusting tactically to retain the initiative. It was all very encouraging and rewarding for everybody concerned - players and team management alike.
And the return, in terms of increased confidence in Ireland's ability to succeed in a qualifying group that is enormously challenging, is considerable.
In other circumstances a win over a team ranked third after the World Cup would have led to feelings of euphoria but everyone recognised the relevant considerations that influenced the result and this kept things in perspective.
"It is a start," said manager Mick McCarthy, "they won and I'm delighted for them.
"That was the squad I wanted, that was the team I wanted and that was the result I wanted."
One suspected that McCarthy's relatively low-key reaction owed much, as well, to the certainty that Croatia were a little subdued.
It took a long time to crank their motor into full power, the fires that were stoked so diligently and attractively by the elegant Asanovic and Boban did not produce a head of steam until Ireland led 2-0.
There was ample evidence, however, just why Croatia did so well in France and why Ireland were lucky to catch them so grievously short of their attacking forces.
Full credit to Ireland, however, for ensuring that a powerful and gifted team paid the full price for their shortcomings, however temporary they may prove to be.
Ireland's achievement was considerable; their performance full of merit, their game plan a product of cold, calculating, professionalism and their rewards significant.
The success of their approach was facilitated enormously by a well-balanced team selection and especially by the committed attitude of a team growing in confidence and in ambition.
Ireland played attractive football, their ability to mix the resourceful with the pedantic was a tribute to their sense of well-being, and their impact owed much to a healthy attitude to hard work.
Ireland's two goals may not have been the product of inspired creation - the first a penalty and the second the result of a lucky bounce - but they were an accurate reflection of the trend of the game in the opening 20 minutes.
Ireland set the tempo high, much to Croatia's discomfort, and their high-powered approach ensured that Croatia were off-balance and under pressure.
It was an extension of the tactics that worked so successfully for Jack Charlton but with a variation for Ireland got the ball down and played some stimulating football to complement their fiery attitude.
It meant that Croatia were never allowed time to settle and with the two young centre-forwards, Robbie Keane and Keith O'Neill, setting the trend by hunting down Croatia's three centre-backs, Croatia found they were hustled into frequent error.
The return was immediate with Denis Irwin checked between two defenders as he drove into the area to earn a penalty award within four minutes. Irwin picked himself off the ground and scored with massive assuredness to set Irish pulses racing.
It was important that Ireland would profit again from their early superiority for Croatia's technical expertise meant they clearly had the potential to wrest control of the game from them. So the second goal, headed in by Roy Keane after 15 minutes was vital.
Those early goals dictated what followed with Ireland's application such that Croatia's unveiling of the full range of the talents available to them on this day was delayed sufficiently for the concession of those early goals to prove fatal.
Just how dangerous Croatia were to Ireland was graphically illustrated regularly with Asanovic and Boban playing with an easy grace and effectiveness in midfield, Jarni always threatening to penetrate on the left flank and Stanic within inches of delivering more than once at centre-forward.
But Ireland were impressively focused and while the pace of their attack inevitably slowed as the game aged, they never lost concentration or spirit. Their application was enormous.
So they successfully negotiated the most challenging of all opening fixtures - playing at home meant they virtually had to win and such a good side as Croatia were well capable of frustrating that ambition on another day.
The bonus was the invaluable experience gained by the newcomers and the success they enjoyed in the context of a performance that owed everything to the balance within the team and the force of their collective spirit of determination.
The game was a particular triumph for two of the newcomers, midfielder Mark Kinsella of Charlton Athletic and centre-forward Robbie Keane of Wolves.
Kinsella was a revelation for he was sharp and incisive in his work, effective in his passing and brave in the challenge. His mobility was a distinct benefit to Ireland as was the freedom afforded him by the dependability of Roy Keane alongside him.
The captain, Keane, took a while to influence the game but one of his strengths is his ability to pace himself effectively and in his first international in more than twelve months, this innate shrewdness of approach stood him well.
His forceful presence released Kinsella to play a supporting role to his strikers and the balance of their contributions ensured that Ireland were not too vulnerable to the counter. Keane was very disciplined in patrolling the area in front of his own centre-backs.
Robbie Keane at centre-forward was as stimulating as ever, a buzz-saw of activity with energy to burn. One adroit piece of football in the first half when he hooked a ball back with his left foot and attempted to strike it with his right, failed only marginally and pointed to the exciting potential of the young man.
The match was a triumph as well for the magnificent Denis Irwin whose temperament was never more favourably evident than when he stroked home the penalty, and Steve Staunton was an equally powerful force at full-back and later in midfield.
Jason McAteer's athleticism was remarkable but, as ever, his lack of finish betrayed him while Ireland were not always comfortable at centre-back where Stanic caused problems in the first half and substitute Pamic did likewise later.
Overall manager Mick McCarthy had plenty of justification for feeling well-satisfied even though the injury that forced Keith O'Neill off prevented the O'Neill/Keane axis of attack to develop. With Yugoslavia in Belgrade next in line, however, his more immediate concern will be to strengthen the heart of his defence.
Ireland: S. Shay Given (Newcastle United), Denis Irwin (Manchester United), Steve Staunton (Liverpool), Phil Babb (Liverpool), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Roy Keane (Manchester United)Capt., Jason McAteer (Liverpool), Mark Kinsella (Charlton Athletic), Keith O'Neill (Norwich), Robbie Keane (Wolves), Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers). Subs: Tony Cascarino (AS Nancy), Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers), Lee Carsley (Derby County).
Subs: Tony Cascarino (AS Nancy) for O'Neill- 8 mins; Jeff Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for Duff - 46 mins; Lee Carsley (Derby County) for Robbie Keane - 61 mins.
Booked: Robbie Keane, Mark Kinsella
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Croatia: Ladic (Croatia Zagreb), Simic (Croatia Zagreb), Stimac (Derby County), Asanovic (panathinaikos), Maric (Croatia Zagreb), Boban (AC Milan), Stanic (Parma), Soldo (VfB Stuttgart), Jurcic (Croatia Zagreb), Tudor (Juventus), Jarni (Real Madrid).
Subs: Pamic (Stuttgart) for Maric, 46; Krpan (Osijek) for Tudor, 63; Tokic (Croatia) for Soldo, 78.
Sent Off: Stanic, Jurcic
Referee: Vitor Manuel Melo Pereira (Portugal