The Republic of Ireland will need to get a minimum of four points from its two remaining group games against Spain and Italy to have a chance of advancing in the tournament after a crushing 3-1 defeat by Croatia.
While manager Giovanni Trapattoni insisted Irish hopes were not over after one game, his team will have to win at least one of its two remaining fixtures to make the quarter finals.
The other group game, between Spain and Italy, was drawn 1-1.
The Irish were thoroughly outplayed to lose 3-1 in Poznan and leave themselves with a mountain to climb in Group C.
Defeat against Spain on Thursday could spell the end for Trapattoni’s men, who must realistically also get a result against Italy next Monday to stand any chance of progressing.
The Republic looked worryingly out of their depth in what was their first major finals appearance for a decade and first at a Euros since 1988.
But manager Trapattoni said: “We have to believe.
“This evening we met a strong team, technical – we knew that before. “But every game in this Euro can be a surprise.
“We have to believe this. Until now, we have not conceded a situation like this evening.”
The Republic got off to the worst possible start, conceding inside three minutes.
They equalised in the 19th minute through Sean St Ledger and looked set to go into half-time level before a sucker punch two minutes from the break. Nikica Jelavic appeared offside before pouncing on Stephen Ward’s horrible error to make it 2-1.
“The second goal was clearly offside, two metres,” Trapattoni said.
It knocked the stuffing out of Ireland, who allowed Mario Mandzukic to grab his second of the night three minutes after half-time. They were also denied a lifeline when captain Robbie Keane saw what looked a stonewall penalty turned down.
Keane felt referee Bjorn Kuipers’ decision may have been influenced by the Irish not putting the ball out of play when a Croatia player lay injured in the build-up.
“I think so, yeah,” he said. “It’s definitely a penalty, there’s no question about that.
“Their players and their fans were shouting for us to kick the ball out but, before the ball got to me, I think the fellow stood up or was just about to stand up. Whether the referee had that in the back of his mind, I’m not too sure. That’s something you’re going to have to ask him.”
But few would argue that Croatia did not deserve the match and the Irish will have to create a major upset to rescue their tournament now.
The Irish will be hoping that Croatia beat both Italy and Spain in their remaining matches.