Zlatan Ibrahimavic gets the better of James McClean
Sweden took a huge step towards securing second place in Group C by beating a poor Ireland team in Dublin on Friday night.
The 2-1 victory for Sweden came after they went down to a Robbie Keane goal after little over 20 minutes. The Irish relied on a defensive mistake for their goal, despite starting well.
Ireland have been notoriously defensive during Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as manager, but it was the boys in green who came out all guns blazing ready to attack at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. James McClean, James McCarthy, Shane Long, Robbie Keane and John Walters all started the game, and the five attacking players took control of the game from the very first minute.
The Swedish defence withstood the pressure initially, restricting Ireland to long range efforts, with McClean coming closest after a powerful cross drifted in the wind to leave goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson stranded as the ball struck the crossbar after 20 minutes.
Moments later, Ireland were gifted a goal when Mikael Lustig failed to deal with a simple long ball forward from Ireland. His header landed in no-man’s land between defence and goalkeeper, giving Keane the chance to latch onto the ball just before the advancing Isaksson. Keane seemed to have missed the opportunity when the ball bounced back off the post, but he was able to get up after colliding with the goalkeeper and smash the rebound into the top of the net.
With the teams level on points in Group C, Sweden needed to respond, and they clearly stepped it up a level, Johan Elmander forcing a save from David Forde barely a minute after the opening goal.
Ireland continued to play positively but were still unable to break through, with Sweden looking increasingly dangerous when countering. It was from a counter attack that Sweden should have been level, but Sebastian Larsson sent a free header wide from six yards out after a perfect cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The opportunity gave Sweden a boost in confidence and after 33 minutes, they were level. Lustig seemed eager to make up for his mistake and found space on the right wing. His low cross was met by Elmander, who managed to get in front of Richard Dunne and power his diving header past Forde.
Going into half time, Sweden were the most confident, knowing they were able to create chances against the ageing Irish centre halves.
In the second half, Sweden started brightest with Ibrahimovic finally showing his class. The big striker came back out playing a little deeper and had no problems finding space.
A through ball for Larsson was beaten away by a frantic Forde on the edge of his box just seconds before Ibrahimovic found space yet again between defence and midfield. His perfectly weighted ball released Anders Svensson on the right hand side of the box. The veteran had time to take a touch before smashing his shot into the back of the net.
Sweden never looked back and were happy to spend the last half hour of the game comfortably running down the clock, knowing that Ireland weren’t likely to break down their strong defence.
The main talking point for Ireland fans will be the reluctance of Trapattoni to bring on Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan despite his side struggling to even make a half chance in the second half.
With the victory in Dublin, Sweden are now heavy favourites to take second place, with Ireland and Austria now unlikely to catch the Scandinavians.