Anyone who found the manner of Chelsea’s Champions League triumph hard to digest is advised to look elsewhere when rank outsiders Ireland face Croatia in their Euro 2012 opener on Sunday.
Chelsea proved it is possible to overcome vastly more gifted opponents with well-organised blanket defence, the odd counter-attack and a generous portion of luck in their wins over Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
It remains to be seen how many of the 16 teams at Euro 2012 are tempted to emulate them, but Ireland are one side who will certainly try and do so.
Unbeaten in their last 14 matches, and having kept clean sheets in 11 of those, Ireland are likely to prove stubborn opponents for a Croatia team which features a number of ageing key players and can look slow and predictable against tough defences.
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni has openly been calculating their chances of making the last 16 with only four points from their three games in a group which also includes Spain and Italy.
“The first results will be important. If it’s two draws, then it might be possible to qualify with four points,” he told UEFA’s official website, making no apologies for their style.
“We want to win, to play and to score goals. But our opponents are strong.
“I think of the final of the Champions League. Bayern had a lot more possession, they deserved to win, but lost of course and Chelsea created the best opportunity. Seventeen corners for Bayern, one corner for Chelsea - that is football.”
Ireland at least have a valid excuse for their tactics as they can legitimately claim to be making the most of limited resources, whereas Chelsea had the backing of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Perhaps a fairer comparison would be with Paraguay, another small country whose team are anything but pretty to watch but traditionally make life very uncomfortable for bigger neighbours such as Argentina and Brazil.
“We don’t have many creative players, but very straightforward players,” said Trapattoni.
“We have our own style of football.
“We are not a Latin team, not a team who play technically superior. We are a team with our own characteristics, which I like very much, very direct and precise.”
Paraguay scored only three goals and won only one game on the way to reaching the quarter-finals of the last World Cup.
They also reached the final of last year’s Copa America without winning a single match, although that was only possible because two of the third-placed teams proceed from the group stage in the 12-team tournament.
Croatia, quarter-finalists in Austria and Switzerland four years ago, have qualified for seven out of nine major tournaments since the country gained independence in 1992.
Many of the Euro 2008 squad remain and form the backbone of the current team in which goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, defenders Josip Simunic and Darijo Srna, midfielders Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric are regulars in coach Bilic’s preferred 4-4-2 formation.
Especially influential are 30-year old captain Srna and playmaker Modric, who flourished at Tottenham Hotspur for most of this season until he and his team faltered in the closing stages of the campaign.
Coach Slaven Bilic has said he has a number of options up his sleeve while Trapattoni surprised many by naming his team one week before the match.
Coincidentally, Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira did exactly the same thing when his team opened their 2006 World Cup campaign against Croatia.
Parreira’s side won 1-0, however a more likely omen for Sunday’s match maybe the most recent meeting between the teams in a friendly last August. It finished goalless.Report Typo/Error