Hoping Tardelli's Dream Will Come True...

It was a rough night for Ireland, but there's little shame in losing to a Croatia team that could reach the quarters. And who knows, Marco Tardelli's dream may come true...

Last Updated: 11/06/12 at 11:54 Post Comment

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This might seem like a massive set-back for Ireland, but I prefer to live in a world where Marco Tardelli's dreams come true.

It's a place of hope and optimism, where everyone runs around in wild, jubilant celebration. More importantly, it's a world in which Ireland were supposed to draw with Croatia and then beat Spain and Italy to qualify for the quarter-finals. Or at least that's what the World Cup winner said ahead of Ireland's Group C opener.

Of course, the first part of Tardelli's fantasy failed to materialise in a rather miserable defeat on Sunday and unless Giovanni Trapattoni's team can fulfill parts two and three, they'll be flying home in only eight days' time. But Ireland's Italian duo will still believe the Boys in Green can spring a surprise result in their next two matches and we can be sure that the players won't have lost hope. Judging from the chorus of 'The Fields of Athenry' at full-time, the fans will certainly continue to enjoy the experience.

Croatia were expected to provide a tough test for Ireland, but it was still a surprise to see them begin the match with such verve and intent. Shay Given should have saved Mario Mandzukic's header, but the striker's buzzing two-goal performance typified the purpose of Slaven Bilic's side.

Three of us at F365 Towers predicted that Italy will be the big boys to crash out with egg on their faces and while Cesare Prandelli's team impressed in the 1-1 draw with Spain, they will be cautious of the threat from Croatia on Thursday.

Croatia were meant to be challengers at Euro 2008 after qualifying ahead of England and winning all three of their group stage matches, including a 1-0 victory over Germany. However, they crashed out in cruel fashion against Turkey in the quarter-finals and subsequently failed to reach the World Cup in South Africa.

Bilic's team have regrouped, though, and under the guidance of their characterful manager they got their revenge on Turkey in the qualifying play-offs in November, storming into an unassailable 3-0 lead in the first leg in Istanbul.

With a blend of experience and youthful exuberance, they possess players that can harm Italy and Spain in the next two fixtures. Mandzukic, who cost Wolfsburg £7million just two years ago, has been told he's free to leave the Bundesliga club this summer and is clearly making the most of his time in the shop window. The striker has struck up a good understanding with Nikica Jelavic and with Luka Modric playing behind the front two, they are bound to find goal-scoring opportunities.

Ivan Rakitic hasn't had the best season for Sevilla, but he put in a tireless shift alongside the impressive Ivan Perisic in midfield, who Arsenal fans will no doubt remember for this goal in the Champions League. Darijo Srna and Vedran Corluka offer calmness and composure in defence and Stipe Pletikosa is a veteran of 92 caps as the team's goalkeeper.

It's a mixture that could see Croatia sneak past Italy on Thursday in a game that will serve as a decider as to who reaches the quarter-finals.

Ireland require a minor miracle if they are to progress, but there is little shame in their opening game defeat. Ten years is a long time to wait for an international tournament and the feeling that it may already be over will be hard to take. But if they can claim a shock win over Spain, Croatia could well do them favour against Italy, and you wouldn't fear backing Trapattoni's team in a crucial third and final group game. It's a lot of 'ifs' though.

Matt Stanger - join him in Tardelli's dream world on Twitter.

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