Poznan (Poland), Jun 11 (IANS / RIA Novosti): Two headers by Mario Mandzukic made the difference as Croatia took the lead in Euro 2012's Group C after a 3-1 win over Ireland.
Mandzukic scored the fastest goal of the tournament so far when he opened the scoring in the third minute, with a header from Darijo Srna's deflected ball.
Ireland responded fifteen minutes later with a close-range header from defender Sean St Ledger, who used his strength to beat Vedran Corluka to Aiden McGeady's free kick.
Everton forward Nikica Jelavic restored Croatia's lead on 43 minutes, flicking the ball over the onrushing Shay Given from Luka Modric's pass.
The Irish claimed the strike was offside, but the referee dismissed their appeals. The match was then stopped for around a minute as Croatian fans celebrated by throwing pyrotechnics.
Mandzukic scored three minutes into the second half as well, with a header from Ivan Perisic's cross that ricocheted in off the post and Given's head.
Earlier Sunday two goals in three minutes saw Spain and Italy share the points with a 1-1 draw in their Euro 2012 opener, as Cesc Fabregas canceled out Antonio Di Natale's strike with a goal of his own.
Ireland: Shay Given, John O'Shea, Sean St Ledger, Stephen Ward, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Robbie Keane (Shane Long, 75'), Kevin Doyle (Jon Walters, 53'), Aiden McGeady (Simon Cox, 54').
Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa, Gordon Schildenfeld, Vedran Corluka, Ivan Strinic, Darijo Srna, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ognjen Vukojevic, Nikica Jelavic (Niko Kranjcar, 72'), Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic.