Ireland played well for most of the first half, but the beginning and end of their first 45 minutes back in a major tournament didn't go as planned. They conceded within three minutes and then again just before halftime as Croatia grabbed a 2-1 lead in this Group C clash.
Croatia got on the board when Ireland cleared a corner kick, but only to 20 yards, where the Croats latched onto it. They worked it wide to Darijo Srna, who got to the endline before cross. His cross deflected off of Stephen Ward and to Mario Mandzukic, who headed the ball just inside the post. Shay Given, whether bothered by injury or having his view blocked, did not react quickly and the ball squeaked in for the opening tally.
The expertise of the Irish on set pieces did pay off in the 19th minute when Sean St. Ledger equalized. A free kick from the left was driven to the back post, six yards from goal. Stipe Pletikosa hesitated, then didn't come off his line to punch, which allowed St. Ledger to get to the ball before Vedran Corluka. From there, it took just a simple header and Ireland were level.
After giving up the early goal, Ireland put in a competent performance. Croatia had their chances, but Ireland also knocked the ball around a bit and it looked like they would get into halftime level, but then Ward gifted Croatia the go-ahead goal.
Luka Modric danced around a defender before firing a shot that was blocked. The ball was in a crowd, but Ward got to it and had a clearance attempt that should have ended the danger. The problem is that Ward's clearance was mishit and went backwards, right into the path of Nikica Jelavic. The Croatian striker was in an offside position, but because the ball was played in by Ward, the flag rightly stayed down and Jelavic beat Given to put Croatia up 2-1 at halftime.