When and where: The Euro 2012 Group C encounter kicks-off from Stadion Miejski in Poznan, Poland, at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be on ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3.
Preview: With Spain and Italy to come in a tough Group C, both Ireland and Croatia's fate in these European Championships could rest on this opening encounter in Poznan.
The occasion is much anticipated for Irish fans, with their team appearing in a major finals for the first time in 10 years. After the agonizing disappointment of a handball-assisted defeat to France in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup, Ireland made amends with a comfortable victory over Estonia in the playoffs this time around.
Just four members of the Irish squad, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Shay Given and Richard Dunne, have tasted a major tournament, having been a part of the squad that traveled to Japan and South Korea back in 2002. But in 73-year-old coach Giovanni Trapattoni they have a man in the dugout who has experienced everything imaginable in over 35 years in management.
Trap, as he is affectionately known, will set his Irish side up with a priority on keeping things tight at the back. While they may not have the most talented squad in Poland and Ukraine, few teams will be harder to break down than Ireland.
That is the challenge facing Slaven Bilic's Croatia as they begin their campaign. Bilic, a former leading defender with the national team, will step away from the job after six years in charge to join Lokomotiv Moscow following the finals. The 43-year-old, along with his side, faced much criticism at home during qualifying before eventually sealing their place at the finals with a playoff victory over Turkey.
There is little doubt, though, that this team does not look as strong as the one that reached the quarter-finals in such impressive fashion back in 2008. Much of the reliance will be on star playmaker Luka Modric to provide the creativity form the middle of the pitch. Bilic will also be hoping that Nikica Jelavic can replicate the form that saw him hit 9 goals in 10 Premier League starts since joining Everton in January.
Ireland (probable, 4-4-2)
D: O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward
M: Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady
F: Keane, Doyle
Croatia (probable, 4-4-2)
D: Vida, Schildenfeld, Simunic, Strinic
M: Srna, Dujmovic, Modric, Perisic
F: Mandzukic, Jelavi
Prediction: While Ireland's commitment to defense is well known, Croatia are also a far less enterprising side than they were four years ago. That will likely mean a tight and cagey matchup with very little between the sides. That could mean a point each that may do little to aid the hopes of progressing for either side.
Ireland 1-1 Croatia