Brave Ireland performance helps get the point across
Trapattoni’s side keep Sweden in check with disciplined show in Stockholm
Republic of IrelandIreland goalkeeper David Forde rises to collect the ball against Sweden in Stockholm. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Date: 22 March, 2013
If Sweden's dramatic fightback in Berlin upset the equilibrium of Group C from an Irish perspective then Giovanni Trapattoni's remodelled side set things straight and then some in Stockholm tonight
There may still have a long way to go in this campaign before they are sure of a top two finish but what was comfortably their best performance in quite some time restored much of the pride that was lost over the past year and, more important, stole away the advantage from their hosts in the form of a very precious point.
It was a performance quite unlike those produced at the European championships and a world away from the backs to the wall mayhem of Moscow. This time Ireland kept their shape and composure in such a way as to smother almost everything their hosts could muster.
David Forde did have to round off a fine performance late on with a terrific reaction save from Rasmus Elm but Zlatan Ibrahimovic was barely heard from all night and the visitors were easily worth their draw.
It is hard to know for sure, of course, whether things would have been the same had Glenn Whelan been fit and Trapattoni had not, as a result of his injury, also decided to replace Robbie Brady in the starting line up before kick-off, but the manager had considerable cause with the way things worked out.
Late on, as players inevitably tired towards the end of a game in which the collective effort had been enormous but Ireland still looked to be in with an outside chance of nicking the other two points, he brought on Wes Hoolahan, Andy Keogh and Conor Sammon. In truth, though, there was barely a member of the original starting line-up who could be said to have played badly.
As they so often do, indeed, the Irish started the game well with James McClean and Marc Wilson providing early evidence of the threat they would present down the left but Jon Walters was unable to convert when the first half chance came his way.
After 10 minutes or so, things started to settle but the balance remained surprisingly even with the visitors keeping the ball a little better than often tends to be the case and so managing to avoid the standard pitfall of defending for long stretches inside the last third of the pitch.
A couple of mistakes, one by James McCarthy, another, under more pressure, by Paul Green, brought scares but with time and space in which to work, the back four generally looked assured and some John O'Shea's longer range passing had the potential to cause the Swedes problems, most notably when he picked out Robbie Keane down the left-hand side of the opposition area but Ireland's captain couldn't quite manage to get the ball out from under his feet.
Shane Long had shown more control but then less composure when opportunity came knocking for him. The West Brom striker striker turned Andreas Granqvist inside out before sweeping past the fallen defender only to blast wildly over.
At the other end, the Swedes actually had better chances and Forde was twice required to make good saves at full stretch but there was never anything like the siege of an Irish goal that we have seen in some many European capitals over the last few years. In fact, over the course of the first 45 minutes they narrowly edged the corner count.
Green played his part, working tirelessly to close down the space in front of opponents, often the deeper lying members of the Swedish midfield, and also providing constant encouragement to McCarthy who tended to drift in and out of things far more. More than once, Green's poor passes took the shine off his good work although Trapattoni will probably have been more concerned by his younger team-mate's occasional lack of urgency when the game passed him by.
Pushing forward out of the defence, both full backs had their moments although Wilson perhaps took a risk or two too many at times. Both showed they could, and would, take on and beat opponents, a threat may have been behind Erik Hamren's decision to replace the more adventurous of his own full backs, Michael Lustig, at the break.
There was a little more pressure on the back four as the night wore on and at the heart of the defence, not everything went entirely to plan for O'Shea and Ciaran Clark with the latter, for instance, presenting Seb Larsson with a clearcut shot at goal midway through the second half thanks to a terribly tame clearance. The Sunderland player swiped at that one and, more usually, there was someone on hand to provide a vital piece of cover.
Forde, in any case, consistently looked on top of things when he had to. The 33-year-old had made his first mark on the game when coming well out his area in the early stages to take the ball out of Tobias Hysen's path. As the night wore, his role was generally confined to plucking high balls out of the air. Still, he made the same required in the dying minutes when, urged desperately on by their manager, piled forward in search of a winner.
But then, on what was a very good night for Trapattoni and this team, everyone can be satisfied that they did their bit.