Euro 2012: Ireland seek redemption by sticking to plan against Spain

• Richard Dunne says Irish still believe they can win group
• Changes likely to be kept to minimum after defeat by Croatia

The morning after the night before, and Irish temples throbbed for more than one reason. The Republic of Ireland's supporters had descended on Poznan's Municipal Stadium in their thousands, the sense of anticipation almost overwhelming ahead of their country's first major tournament match since 2002.

The two-carriage trams that shuttled some of them in made the buses in Calcutta seem roomy and serene. The songs belted out. Whether it was the drink or simply the communal excitement, they had told themselves that Croatia could be toppled. After all, nobody beats the Irish, to paraphrase the squad's Euro 2012 anthem. They entered the tie on a 14-match unbeaten run.

The atmosphere at kick-off was tumultuous yet the reality check that followed was equally so. Ireland's hard‑luck stories carried little substance. Over the 90 minutes, they were second best in every area.

If every fan had allowed him or herself to become giddy at kick-off time, they also knew, deep down, that defeat was a distinct possibility. Ireland have punched above their weight under Giovanni Trapattoni but the statistics still showed that they had not beaten a team ranked above them by Fifa since Holland were dispatched at Lansdowne Road in 2001.

In one sense, Croatia's 3-1 win merely confirmed Ireland's worst fears, which also served to take the sting out of the recriminations, although one Irish newspaper did go with "DIRELAND". Elsewhere, there were kicks in the Balkans or the Bilic. Trapattoni's team do what they do extremely well but everything has to be picture-perfect for their sling-shot to fell Goliath.

It was not. Defensively, they were a shadow of their normal selves and even fortune, which had been a friend to them during qualification, was absent in Poznan, with deflections playing a part in Croatia's first two goals. If Ireland's appeals for offside on the second were rather hopeful, they ought to have had a penalty for Gordon Schildenfeld's challenge on Robbie Keane at 3-1 down. The die felt as though it had been cast by then.

The players said the right things and, in spite of the deflation, they managed to bang the drum. Who says that they cannot get a result against the world and European champions Spain on Thursday to remain alive? And they have beaten Italy, whom they play in the final Group C game, before. They had to keep the faith.

"There is no point packing up and going home," said the defender Richard Dunne. "We understand that we'll be written off and not given a chance. But we've got 180 minutes of football, so why not? We can go and win the games, especially when everything is going against us. We still believe we can win our group and we just want everyone to keep supporting us."

If Ireland were to win the group now, it would rank among the greatest shocks of all time and Dunne more accurately caught the mood when he talked of playing to restore pride and doing it for the fans, particularly those that have sacrificed so much to be here. The players' appreciation of the travelling support is heartfelt. "It's still a massive occasion for everyone back home … [and] the people who come over here and spend all their money to come and watch us so we've got to make sure when we get there on Thursday, our heads will be right and we'll go there to win the game," Dunne said. "We were blown by the fans. That is one of the biggest disappointments. They've not got the result they deserve. Hopefully, we can turn it around for them."

Trapattoni was at his persuasive best after training back in Gdynia, urging a re-tweak of history. The game had been balanced, he insisted, and only Croatia's fortuitous goals had titled it. He maintained that Nikica Jelavic should have been pulled back for offside on the second and he complained again about the non-award of the penalty for Keane.

As a show of his faith, he looked set to keep changes to a minimum against Spain. Jon Walters, he indicated, could replace Kevin Doyle to allow Ireland to make a five in midfield more easily, but that should be about it. Trapattoni used the Italian word riscatto to suggest he wanted to give his players the opportunity to redeem themselves. He is not exactly known for his appetite for change and he stressed that, in psychological terms, it was generally poor management to scapegoat people after setbacks.

Trapattoni is not a fan of youth, particularly not in pressure situations, which pointed towards the winger James McClean continuing to be left on the sidelines, and his message was plain. Ireland had their qualities that had taken them to a deserved qualification and this was no time to be doubting them. "I think the message got through to the players," Trapattoni said. Not everyone is convinced it will be sufficient.

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