This is the Irish’s opening encounter of Euro 2012 and it is arguably a must win for them.
Spain and Italy make up the rest of Group C and defeat to Croatia would put Giovanni Trapattoni’s men in a very difficult situation with regards to qualifying for the knockout stages.
Make no mistake, this Irish team are scared of nobody, but there isn’t a team in the whole competition that would like to go into games against Spain and Italy on the back of a defeat.
With this in mind, Ireland’s form is very positive. They haven’t lost in 14 games and they are definitely difficult to beat. If they can shake off any early tournament nerves, they can be a force to be reckoned with.
Their key man is clear – Robbie Keane. The skipper and leading scorer is the talisman for this side and with this likely to be his last major tournament, he will want to be on top of his game.
It is then a case of the other players rallying round him and having the tournament of their lives. Can Aiden McGeady – who has been playing his football in Europe – cause Croatia’s defence problems? Can Shay Given be his reliable self? Everything counts for Ireland.
As for Croatia, the need to avoid defeat in this one is the same as Ireland’s. In fact, this could be seen as the game which decides who can challenge Spain and Italy for the top two positions in Group C.
Slavin Bilic’s men have been inconsistent in the build up to this tournament, but they will believe they have more than enough to get past Ireland.
Croatia are one of many teams that, one their day, could be considered a contender for the latter stages. However, they could also be one of the major flops. It really could depend on how they start this game against the Irish.
Overall, this isn’t the most high-profile of the group games this weekend, but it could be one of the most competitive and entertaining. It gets underway at 7.45pm on Sunday evening.