Chance to do new Poznan as Ireland hope to banish ghosts '91 loss
00:45 GMT, 9 June 2012
The defining nine days of Giovanni Trapattoni's reign as Republic of Ireland manager begin on Sunday in an ancient Polish city associated with a wacky goal celebration and a costly Irish collapse in 1991.
Before 'doing a Poznan' went global, 'doing a Poznan' among Irish fans referred to a grim implosion by the Irish side in the final 20 minutes of a European qualifier.
Still working: (l-r) Richard Dunne and Paul McShane are edged out by Keiren Westwood in training
Blowing a 3-1 lead cost the team qualification for the finals of the 1992 European Championship and sparked off a succession of horror stories about trying to make the Euro finals – the Irish fell agonisingly short in 1996 and 2000.
Returning to the scene of the crime, where Croatia await in the Municipal Stadium (7.45), gives the class of 2012 the opportunity to exorcise the demons of Poznan past and point the way towards extending their Euro adventure beyond the group stage.
Trapattoni says it is 'silly' to think Ireland can win the tournament as 'too many situations must go in our favour', but escaping from a group containing the last two World Cup winners would represent success for a team of Ireland's status.
Trapattoni said he feels forever young but he has shaped the team in the image of old Italian sides – difficult to beat and difficult to love.
Talking tactics: Giovanni Trapattoni chats with Richard Dunne
After four years of 'drill, drill, drill' as Richard Dunne observed, every Irish player 'knows his jobs' as Trapattoni quaintly puts it.
Watch on Sunday.
Shay Given won't roll the ball once to his fullbacks; the full-backs will only cross the half-way line with written permission; one of the central midfielders will stay behind the ball; Dunne won't go up for every corner.
This is the team that Trapattoni has built, a pragmatic platoon, obedient to a fault to their Little General's commands.
Not everyone likes the way we play but Trapattoni's philosophy and strategy have taken Ireland further than many believed possible and he won't change now, despite his philosophising that 'it's an old man who isn't curious about the next news'.
At 73, some 30 years older than Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, Trapattoni remains besotted by the game that has consumed his life for more than 50 years.
His teenage kicks have lasted longer than The Undertones.
Talking down chances: Trapattoni knows the pain of an early exit
Yet, for all his achievements, the dapper Italian has a little devil on his shoulder which he can't shake off.
Twice, he took highly-rated Italian squads to the major finals; twice he failed to leave an imprint – even if he was hard done by in 2002.
Those early exits still sting and Trapattoni can only banish the baby Beelzebub on his clavicle by leading his squad of blue-collar workers out of Group C.
Can it be done
Yes, but it will require a lot of cards to fall Ireland's way.
Trapattoni can't afford injuries or red cards to the cornerstones of his team – Given, Dunne, and Robbie Keane.
The leg-wary looseness we saw in Hungary can't be repeated either and Ireland must be as tight as a miser's fist from the off on Sunday night.
In with a shout: Shay Given had his first full training session on Friday
The longer it stays scoreless, the more likely Croatia will become frustrated.
Staying behind a bolted door all night won't be enough from the Irish who must look to win the game, ideally with a late goal, as it would give them bargaining power for the other games to come.
In all of Ireland's previous opening games in major finals, they have never lost; that trend must continue on Sunday.
Despite their ranking of eighth in the world, there is no reason the Irish should feel inferior to the Croats – especially not after going 14 games unbeaten.
In six previous meetings, the Irish had two wins and three draws, the most recent being a tame 0-0 affair in Dublin last August.
The only loss came after a goal deep into stoppage time against a weakened Irish side in a Zagreb Euro qualifier in '99.
It's not just history that is on Ireland's side. Croatia may have a fancy ranking, but they didn't create fireworks in the qualifiers.
Standing in Ireland's way: Croatia head coach Slaven Bilic (right) and Luca Modric (left)
In a weak group, they managed no goals and only one point against a Greek side which should have been buried without trace by Poland by half-time in Warsaw on Friday night.
True, they are superior technicians than the Irish but most teams are, and they have Luka Modric to pull the strings.
Modric is a class act but is no stranger to Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews, who will look to close him down and deny him space to tee up powerful spearhead, Nikica Jelavic.
A big plus for the Irish has been the preparations which have run far smoother than before.
Ten years ago, Irish heads were spinning over the fallout to the Roy Keane affair and the focus only returned when the team fell behind against Cameroon in the opening game.
The unity in this squad is as strong as any at a major final before and that sense of togetherness cannot be underestimated as the players would run through a brick wall for each other.
It's a massive bonus too that all of Trapattoni's prayers have been answered and his front-line players will strip fit for battle.
In contrast, Croatia are without experienced striker Ivica Olic.
The most eagerly-awaited international since Ireland went toe to toe with Spain in a sweat box in Suwon is almost upon us and a nation turns its lonely eyes to the little man from Milan and the players he has placed his trust in.
From Budapest to the Baltic Sea, thunderstorms have followed Ireland all week – Friday night's tempest was a right belter.
It's time to stir up a squall on the field of play, or risk being becalmed when the Spanish galleons drop anchor off Gdansk on Thursday night.