At 73, the Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, is the oldest manager in European Championship history and, with an astounding array of trophies at club level, one of the most successful. His international experience with Italy was less successful, and in the 2002 World Cup the Azzurri suffered a surprise defeat to Croatia at the group stage, but his pragmatic approach has taken Ireland to Euro 2012. Certainly they are not one of the most thrilling teams to have qualified, but they enter the tournament with a 14-match unbeaten record and with You'll Never Beat the Irish as their anthem.
In a group also containing Spain and Italy, though, Croatia know beating the Irish is key to their chances. Manager Slaven Bilic acknowledged as much prior to the tournament, though he also recognised that - as Ireland kept 11 clean sheets in their 14 unbeaten games - doing so will not be easy. "You can't create many chances against them," he said. "It's really hard to have a clear chance against them. The way they are defending as a team and a back four, it's quite impressive."
Ireland's chances of keeping a clean sheet in the opener are boosted by the fitness of goalkeeper Shay Given and defender John O'Shea - both had nursed injuries going into the tournament - while Croatia will be without Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic for the duration of the tournament.
Croatia at least boast greater finesse, and Borussia Dortmund winger Ivan Perisic - while warning against the threat of "traditional English-style attacks" on the counter - told the media in his homeland: "We have to be patient because their Achilles' heel is when the ball is played along the ground. In that respect, we are definitely stronger."
However, Trapattoni believes Croatia have an Achilles' heel of their own and it appears that - while Croatia have confirmed that right-back Vedran Corluka will be fit - Ireland will be looking to exploit the flanks in their search for a potentially priceless victory.
Asked to pinpoint Croatia's weaknesses, Trapattoni said: "I can't say it now, I can't say what position, but we have McGeady and Duff who can change the situation. We are always thinking about scoring and always look to score. We can win the game. We don't play to draw."
Ireland player to watch: Kevin Doyle
Robbie Keane is expected to play in a relatively deep role against Croatia with Wolves striker Doyle leading the line and looking to connect with any opportunities produced from the wings. His club form with relegated Wolves has been disappointing, while the bulk of his 11 international goals have come against the smaller sides, but Trapattoni has tended to prefer him to Shane Long. If Doyle can find his touch, Ireland's chances of success will be greatly improved.
Croatia player to watch: Nikica Jelavic
Ivica Olic's injury is a significant blow, but in Everton striker Jelavic they have a player whose form in the Premier League in 2012 has been exceptional. He netted 11 goals in all competitions for his club after leaving Rangers in January, and Bilic said: "His impact was so strong and so sudden that it was quite unbelievable. He is one of our biggest assets in this tournament, especially now that we've lost Olic."
Whether he can deliver against Ireland may be the key factor in deciding the game - the 26-year-old has scored only twice in 19 matches, and has not excelled against defensive sides. "People ask how is it possible that he can score twice against Manchester United, but not once against Georgia in the qualifiers, and blame that on our system," Bilic said. "Well, it's because against United he can use his skills to find the space between three world-class opposing players in the box - he's that good - but Georgia had eight players in the box whenever we tried to attack and no system would make it easier for a striker in those circumstances."
Key Battle: Keith Andrews v Luka Modric
Modric has adapted to a deeper role in recent times at Tottenham, taking on increased responsibility as the playmaker, and was long been a key figure for club and country. However, the fact that he has made himself so integral has led to fears of burnout ahead of the tournament and it remains to be seen whether the special training programme he was given when linking up with the national side will pay dividends.
Regardless, Ireland will know that, if Modric is unable to perform, Croatia will suffer and West Brom's Andrews - along with midfield partner Glenn Whelan - should be looking to deny him space.
Trivia: Ireland are the oldest team at Euro 2012.
Stats: Croatia scored nine goals from headers in Euro 2012 qualification - more than any other team - while Ireland scored ten goals from set-piece situations.
Previous match result shows the goal less draw between Republic of ireland and Croatia.
International Friendlies Aug 11, 2011 Republic of Ireland 0 – Croatia 0
Last 5 matches
Republic of Ireland (D, W, D, D, W) Republic of Ireland Only won 2 games without and defeat in last 5 matches with 3 draws. The biggest win for Republic of Ireland is against Estonia 4-0 in last 5 matches.
Jun 5, 2012 Hungary 0 – Republic of Ireland 0
May 26, 2012 Republic of Ireland 1 – Bosnia 0
Mar 1, 2012 Republic of Ireland 1 – Czech Republic 1
Nov 16, 2011 Republic of Ireland 1 – Estonia 1
Nov 12, 2011 Estonia 0 – Republic of Ireland 4
Croatia (D, W, L, D, W) Within 2012 Croatia has played 3 matches wining 1 match bearing 1 defeat and 1 draw while In last match Croatia has won 2 matches with 2 draw and 1 loss.
Jun 3, 2012 Norway 1 – Croatia 1
May 26, 2012 Croatia 3 – Estonia 1
Mar 1, 2012 Croatia 1 – Sweden 3
Nov 16, 2011 Croatia 0 – Turkey 0
Nov 12, 2011 Turkey 0 – Croatia 3
Prediction: Ireland have learned the art of avoiding defeat and are likely to leave Croatia frustrated. A draw looks the most likely result.
Republic of Ireland: Given, O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady, Keane, Doyle.