For a team that earned a reputation for being jealously protective of their defensive line, the Republic of Ireland's inability to hold out against the considerable attacking powers of Croatia, Spain and Italy proved costly at UEFA EURO 2012. They travel home with no points to show for their endeavours, though one significant point has been noted: in this type of company, mistakes are punished, not forgiven.
In a nutshell
The concession of early goals against Croatia and Spain was psychologically damaging, putting the skids on the the game plan devised in the dressing room. By falling behind in such a manner, Ireland missed the opportunity to dictate play in those matches, and their opponents were quick and ruthless to take advantage. Had Ireland been drawn in other groups, perhaps their tournament would have been brighter. As it was, the superior technique of their Group C companions proved a critical factor. In the clash of styles, Ireland lost.
When Sean St Ledger equalised against Croatia, hopes were briefly raised. And for the next 15 minutes, Ireland played their best football of the championship, using their high-energy strategy to unsettle the Croatians and push more and more of the play into their opponents' half. Ultimately, though, those bright moments proved much too short-lived.
Damien Duff, who won his 100th international cap against Italy and had the honour of captaining the side for the occasion, had an impressive tournament, never allowing his industry or standards to slip despite the difficult circumstances he and Ireland found themselves in. A role model for the up-and-coming generation, the 33-year-old Fulham FC winger will be tough to replace when he finally calls time on his international career.
Hope for the future
Promising Sunderland AFC winger James McClean got a brief introduction to tournament football, and he, along with Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson, have the ability to comprise a youthful and talented Irish midfield as they look ahead to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2016.
In 12 qualifiers, eight goals were conceded. In three UEFA EURO 2012 Group C games, nine went past Shay Given.
"As much as we wanted to do well, we know we haven't. We are playing against teams that are better than us and it's hard to accept that our best at the moment isn't good enough."
Richard Dunne speaks from the heart after Ireland fell short.
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