For the last four years, Giovanni Trapattoni has spoken about getting the little details right. Yet last night it was the big ones which let Ireland down. Irrespective of everything that went against them – such as the second goal, which if you debate the laws of the game long and hard enough could have been disallowed as easily as it was given – the bottom line is that both Croatia and Ireland got precisely what they deserved.
“Our tactics were great,” said Slaven Bilic. “We went for it. We attacked. We put an emphasis on our wide players. I’m thrilled.”
He should be. For Bilic, qualification is now a tangible objective. For Ireland, it’s theoretically possible but realistically unattainable. Spain are next and while they were hardly a resemblance of the 2010 version, they are still streets ahead of where Trap’s Ireland are right now.
“The bottom line,” said Niko Kalinic “was that our football was better in open play than Ireland’s. They caused us trouble from set-pieces, but not much more than that.”
There can be no more damning verdict.
But for the fact that Ireland’s set-pieces – from a defensive perspective – were a letdown. The first goal – scored on three minutes – came when a corner was only partially cleared. The second came via a hashed Stephen Ward clearance. And for the third, the lack of pressure on Darijo Srna and Ivan Rakitic as they worked the opening for Mario Mandzukic to score from, was untypical of the Ireland team Trap has spent four years building.
So given that so much of our game-plan is dictated by getting the little details right, by not coughing up easy goals, by not being caught out of shape, by not being easy to beat, tonight was probably the worst of Trap’s reign.
And it comes back to the old joke Mark Lawrenson used to say about Jack Charlton – that when Plan A failed, we automatically reverted to Plan A.
Last night, when Ireland’s Plan A failed, Plan B was to put a centre forward (Simon Cox) on the left wing, a square peg in a round hole. At that stage the game was crying out for James McClean.
He didn’t get the chance he deserved.
And Ireland are now hoping for a second chance. In boxing, promoters gift their fighters ‘a bum’ in their comeback fight, believing a win will help their confidence. Instead of a bum, Ireland have the reigning World and European champions. It promises to be a long week.