by Glenn Mason

The Republic of Ireland players left the Meijski Stadium in Poznan last night feeling aggrieved that key decisions did not go their way and that "lady luck" deserted them.

The UEFA post-game statistics showed Croatia had more of the ball on a harrowing night for Ireland as their Euro 2012 campaign got off to the worst possible start.

However, defender Stephen Ward believes Ireland were always in the game and lamented the nature of the goals they conceded.

Ward said: "I thought it was decent performance and from us and we felt lady luck deserted us a little bit tonight.

"If you look at (the first goal) there was a deflection on the cross and everyone was wrong-footed from the header.

"The second I am fouled and I don't know how it has not been seen. There's three referees – two behind the goal. Initially they were offside.

"The third one is obviously a good header but it's has gone in off Shay and could have gone either side of the post. A few decisions just didn't go our way. I'm not making any excuses.

"We were in the game in the first half. The message at half-time was to keep going and do what we were doing. It is disappointing but I think hopefully the travelling fans will see the effort we put in."

It is an old, and obvious, saying that goals change games but the timing of the goals will be galling for Giovanni Trapattoni and his players.

Mario Mandzukic's early strike was followed up by Nikica Jelavic restoring the lead just before half-time.

Any chances Ireland had of staging a second half rally were dented when Mandzukic headed in his second of the night just after the restart.

Ward said: "That changes the game (Mandzukic's second goal). The header was a good header. It is just unfortunate the way it went in.

"The second one seemed a clear foul. I think everyone could see it. It is just unfortunate that it wasn't given by the referee.

"I think we had a similar one in the second half that was give against Shane Long. I'm not making excuses. I thought we were in the game and I didn't think it was that bad of a performance."

World and European champions Spain are up next for Ireland and Ward believes the players will put on a performance to reward the thousands of fans for their support.

"The occasion was amazing, said Ward. "To see so many Irish fans here was unbelievable.

"It was one of the best atmospheres I've played in. I don't feel we've let them down. A few bits of luck haven't gone our way, but the effort of the lads was right up there.

"We are in a tough group and we know it is going to be hard. It is amazing to be here tonight.

"It's not gone the way we wanted it to go but we hope we can do well in our next games and give the fans something to cheer about.

"We are a group of players with a good team spirit and we will definitely pick ourselves up for the next two."