International football is an utterly unforgiving place, the minute mistake or miscalculation is pounced upon and Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark will testify to that after his own goal gave Sweden a lifeline in this tournament and a share of the spoils. Prior to the own goal, Clark along O’Shea had being in commanding form and stifled any influence from Sweden key player Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Great Republic of Ireland Start
Martin O’Neill’s charges started with tempo and did not let Sweden settle into the contest. The central midfield three of McCarthy, Whelan and Hendrick were winning their midfield battles and laying a solid platform for Republic of Ireland to attack Sweden flanks which looked vulnerable early doors. Brady and Hoolahan were finding increasing space on the flanks and the Swedish rearguard were forced to work hard. Several chances were created by the Republic of Ireland. Hendrick was very unlucky not to score with an excellent long range effort which smacked off the crossbar. O’Shea on another day may have made a solid connection to the ball after a set-piece in the Sweden box. Brady’s chance as well emphasized the bright start from the Republic of Ireland and really should have being in front at half-time.
Wes Hoolahan is a player which provides something different to Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane; the sheer ability to comfortably receive the ball, quickly assess his options and make the right decision with the ball. His movement in the pocket today also caught the eye as Sweden held a very high line in midfield. Hoolahan realizing that space behind Long was non-existent ventured further out on the flanks to assert his influence. The second half started as the first half had ended but this time Republic of Ireland hit the front. Seamus Coleman to the fore with a lovely setup for Hoolahan whose half-volley effort was executed with confidence and technique. Cue the celebrations and Sweden were now asked questions. A goal made from the League of Ireland.
Sweden adapt with a little help from the Republic of Ireland
The opening goal stoked Sweden into life. A subtle switch to create openings on the left flank which Martin Olsson producing cross after cross in the ten minutes after the opening goal and forcing Clark and O’Shea to put in some excellent clearances. The tactical switch from the Swedes was not picked up upon initially by the Republic of Ireland until it was too late when the Swedes without a shot on target got an equalizer.
It was a nightmare goal to concede from the Republic. James McCarthy’s positioning on the flank with no Swedish player within ten yards of him was a baffler. Clark’s anticipation was slow on the threat posed. Randolph conscious of being done at the near post like he was when playing West Ham United by Anthony Martial was stuck to his near post. It was a series of minute mistakes which led to the equalizer. Zlatan showed his class by starting the move and pulling the ball back into a dangerous area forcing Clark to make a decision. 1-1 and game was back in the melting pot.
Sweden full back weak points not fully exploited
Particularly in that opening period, Republic of Ireland flanks were joying plenty of success against Sweden’s full back pair in that opening period. Brady’s delivery was at times good but it did not fully expose Sweden defensively. One would suspect that Belgium with the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne will wreck havoc on Olsson and Lustig in the final group game. Opportunity lost in this facet of play but it is something to learn from for the next fixture where Belgium’s Hazard and De Bruyne will not want to track back defensively.
Republic of Ireland Team Rating
All players played with heart and determination throughout. The back four looked solid for long periods apart from the own goal. The central midfield after a positive start struggled in the final quarter of the contest. Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy are two similar players. McCarthy at times looks bereft of his role as Whelan is sitting in the defensive pocket.There is an imbalance in the central midfield area engine room and one wonders what options Martin O’Neill has to address this. Jeff Hendrick will need to continue to support Shane Long who after a bright start became increasingly isolated in the second half. Wes was the man of the match and Seamus Coleman was a close second for me; solid defensively and he showed for ball in attacking areas. Randolph was very solid; own goal was unlucky and he produced a razorsharp save in the second half. It was a professional display and lessons particularly in that second half where Sweden’s change of tact posed problems.
Sweden – Zlatan Over-dependency
Sweden to some observers got away with it today. Zero shots on target and they still got a share of the spoils. The over-reliance on Zlatan was evident throughout. As the talisman struggled to gain any influence on proceedings, Sweden’s other attacking option Berg was unable to take advantage and was hauled off on the hour. Guidetti is physical but not in the same class as Zlatan. The midfield area struggled early doors but when the switch was made to launch attacks down their left flank, the likes of Kaellstroem came into the game. Sweden’s performance in that first fifty minutes will not do against Italy at the weekend. Zlatan’s star quality was to the fore on the equalizer and he will need to continue to carry this team on his back who lacked any other creativity force during this opening fixture.
I think four points is the target for Ireland and Sweden to get to the next phrase of the tournament. With the likes of Slovakia, Albania, Romania, NI, Ukraine in must win territory this week, third place spots could quickly emerge for either side if they can win one of their remaining fixtures. An exciting contest, an end to end affair which had EPL traits. Both sides realize that improvements are required but both teams are on the board and morale continues to build for the rest of the tournament. The fans and atmosphere were sublime today. Well done to both sets of fans, a credit to the game.