– James Joyce, The Dead.
Ireland vs. Croatia could be Euro 2012’s best game or its worst. Neither team is gifted. Neither can afford caution (with Spain and Italy next). Neither is equipped to control the midfield. Things could get unhinged and quickly.
The Irish will play a rigidly tactical defensive system and hope to swipe a goal, either on a set piece or the counterattack. Worrisome for Ireland would be being forced to open up and attack. They will need to, should they go down a goal early or face a second-half deadlock.
Croatia are tougher to read. Their talent level is moderate. There’s nothing they do especially well or poorly. If collectively reading a book right now, it would be The Hunger Games. Ireland is unlikely to prod their soft spot, a plodding back four. Their ability to pick the Irish lock will depend on their star midfielder Luka Modric.
Modric will be, by far, the most talented player on the pitch, but, after a season of being ridden mercilessly by his club manager, it’s not clear he has enough thrust left to carry Croatia.
[Photo via Getty]