Three thoughts: Hard-hitting Jelavic helps Croatia upend Ireland
So when Olic suffered a thigh injury and was ruled out of the tournament a week ago, it seemed a major blow to Croatia's chances of progressing from a difficult group. But Nikica Jelavic had an excellent close to the season having joined Everton from Rangers in January. He is a fine finisher -- as he proved with his instinctive jab when Luka Modric's deflected shot fell to him just before half-time (yes, he was offside and the goal shouldn't have stood; but that doesn't detract from the lethalness of the finish) -- but he can also play with his back to goal, using his sizable frame to hold the ball up. He doesn't quite have the same dynamic style as Olic, but he may turn out to be almost as effective.
Ireland, by contrast, revels in a set piece. Crossed balls was always likely to be its best opportunity to score and sure enough, Sean St. Ledger produced a repeat of his header against Italy three years ago arriving at the back post to nod in Aiden McGeady's free-kick. A whistle went in the crowd as the ball was crossed which led to confusion on both sides, but Corluka's inept attempts to mark St Ledger had nothing to do with that. Twice in the second half Richard Dunne almost got to set-plays while Shildenfeld's clumsy challenge on Robbie Keane just inside the box after 64 minutes equally did little to inspire confidence.
In the end he stayed in Ukraine, with Shakhtar Donetsk, whom he captained to the Uefa Cup in 2009. He is 30 now and a move to one of the big English, German or Italian clubs is probably beyond him -- although his contract at Shakhtar will be lucrative enough. He usually plays as a right-back for his club and on the right side of midfield for his country, but against Ireland Srna played at right-back as Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic took the wide midfield berths.
Whatever his position, he remains one of the finest crossers of a ball in the world, whether from set-pieces or open play. It was his cross that led to Mario Mandzukic's opening goal, a half-clearance falling for the Wolfsburg forward to head in from just inside the box. It's a sign of the purity of his technique that he can his spectacular volleys such as the one he attempted from a Rakitic corner in the 50th minute, hitting the ball cleanly from 25 yards out only for it to be stopped by a copse of Irish defenders. That moment was indicative of Croatia's greater quality; it was slicker and neater in possession and while it wobbled at times at the back it looked a class above Ireland.