|Scoreboard|||||Match Schedule|||||Standings|||||Teams|||||Player Leaders|
By TOM BENNETT
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The Republic of Ireland will get their difficult Group C campaign underway against Croatia when the two meet at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan on Sunday evening.
Euro 2012 is Ireland's first taste of European Championship football in 24 years, but having been drawn against three teams ranked in the world's top 12, Giovanni Trapattoni's side will have their work cut out if they are to make it to the knock-out stages.
The Irish lost just once in qualifying and reached Poland and Ukraine via a 5-1 play-off win over Estonia. Not blessed with a host of attacking talents, the Irish will deploy a flat back-four with two holding midfielders. Wingers Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff will be tasked with getting the ball into tireless front-man Kevin Doyle, while Ireland's all-time top-scorer Robbie Keane will be given a floating role in behind the number nine.
It's not a set-up that will thrill the neutrals, but Trapattoni knows that Ireland will need to be able to soak up pressure in all three group games - starting with the tricky opener against Croatia.
"We have our own style of football," said the veteran Italian manager. "We are not a Latin team, not a team who play technically superior football. We are a team with our own characteristics, which I like very much, very direct and precise. We don't have many creative players, but very straightforward players.
"We ourselves also know perfectly well that the first match is very important, as important as the other first match, Italy against Spain. So the first 90 minutes will have an impact on the tournament. It's very important to win the first match, which would give us a certain advantage, but it would also be important not to lose. Then you'd need to judge it in light of the Italy-Spain result.
"I have seen Croatia many times, and we have played them in a friendly as well, and I have to say, they have more creative players than we do. However, we are in the same physical and mental condition, and with our tactics we have shown against Brazil and France how through our efforts, more creative players have failed to cause us problems."
Poland and Ukraine is the fourth taste of European Championship action for Croatia in the country's short history, and they will be looking to replicate the impressive form of four years ago that saw them reach the knockout stages. Failure to reach the 2010 World Cup was a disappointment, but a play-off win over the Turkish side that had beaten them on penalties in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals ensured another chance of a first major tournament win.
Injuries have weakened the team going into the tournament, although Vedran Corluka looks likely to be able to take his place in the back-four. Ivica Olic's absence is a blow, but should ensure that Nikica Jelavic will be used as the primary centre-forward. The key man in the side is central midfielder Luka Modric, and the deep-lying playmaker has allayed fears that he is struggling for fitness ahead of the key opening match.
"I am happy with my current condition," said Modric. "I feel fine and I have been training normally since Monday. The flu is behind me now.
"It's our most important match in the group. If we win it, then I believe we will reach the knockout phase. I believe we will play at our best and defeat Ireland. We are the favourites and I think we will find a way to beat them. It will not be easy, but I hope we will.
"Our primary goal is to get out of the group stage and then anything is possible, I even think we could go all the way to the end and win the Euros."
The other two teams in Group C are Spain and Italy, who meet earlier on Sunday evening in Gdansk.
Updated June 8, 2012