Croatia's Nikica Jelavic celebrates after he scored by Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given during their Group C match. (Associated Press)
Warka (Poland): Even with Ivica Olic out injured, Croatia got off to a striking start at the European Championship. The Croats got two goals from Mario Mandzukic and one from Nikica Jelavic in their 3-1 win over Ireland in Group C.
That's more than Spain and Italy combined after their 1-1 draw in the other group match.
"If you don't have a striker who can score a goal, you have absolutely no chance to win the game," Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said Monday. "It's the same in the Premier League, Croatian League, Thailand league, or anywhere."
A little over a week ago, Olic was injured in a friendly against Norway. Without the veteran of two World Cups and one European Championship up front, Bilic turned to Jelavic and Mandzukic — neither of whom had played in an international tournament before.
Despite his impressive form for English club Everton in the second half of the Premier League season — 11 goals in 16 appearances — Jelavic had never scored in a competitive match for his country. His only two goals since his first international appearance in 2009 were in friendlies.
But both impressed Sunday at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan. Mandzukic gave Croatia the lead in the third minute and added another in the 48th. Jelavic scored in the 43rd to restore Croatia's lead after Ireland had equalized.
"It wasn't just that they scored the goals. They kept the ball great, they pressed really hard," Bilic said. "I have got no complaints on any player on any position on the pitch, but the two of them were the guys who were leading us to a great game and great result."
Croatia next faces Italy in Poznan on Thursday, and then will meet Spain in Gdansk.