Ireland left without even second best to hope for after Sweden take the win
Exciting first-half home display peters out as Ibrahimovic and co raise their game
Republic of Ireland defenders Marc Wilson and John O’Shea show their dejection at the final whistle of the World Cup qualifier against Sweden at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Republic of Ireland 1 Sweden 2: The crowds returned just in time to see the curtain come down on another World Cup dream last night at the Aviva Stadium as Ireland led before losing to a Sweden side who suddenly looked well placed to take Group C’s second spot and a place in the play-offs.
With his 60th international goal, Ireland’s captain, Robbie Keane, had given the home side the lead midway through an exciting first half in which they played some of their best football of the campaign to date. At the back, though, they simply weren’t good enough to cope with opponents whose own skipper pulled the strings when it mattered and in the end goals by Johan Elmander and Anders Svensson were enough to seal a Swedish victory.
The latter scored the winner with more than half an hour to go but the Irish looked a little desperate as they chased an equaliser. For all their determination, a succession of individual errors hampered their attacks, and while there were half chances, Erik Hamren’s side might just as easily have added a third on the break.
Through not mathematically out of the race, the result leaves Ireland on the brink of elimination from this World Cup. Trapattoni’s men go to Vienna three points behind the Swedes who now head to Astana on something of a high. Both must play Germany next month.
Sweden will also play host to Austria, who lost last night in Munich and head into the game against Giovanni Trapattoni’s men on Tuesday desperate for all three points. Ireland will doubtless cling to the thought that they can play their way back into things there, but they still need to win next week – which looks less likely than ever after this – and even then they would require so many results to go their way that it would amount to something approaching a miracle.
After their usual strong start here, things ebbed and flowed a little for Ireland whose urgency wasn’t always matched by the composure. Breaking forward, or under a high ball forward, from David Forde they consistently looked dangerous over the course of a good first half, with Shane Long’s strength unsettling his markers as much as Keane’s movement around him.
And for all the talk of brighter, better football, that was how Ireland’s opening goal came about, with a long punt by the goalkeeper flicked on by the West Brom striker before Mikael Lustig misjudged an attempt to head the ball back to Andreas Isaksson.
Keane pounced but scuffed his shot which hit the foot of the post as a cluster of players chased after it. Lustig and Mikael Antonsson both got touches but failed to clear before the Irish striker arrived to power the loose ball home into the roof of the net.
For a while after that, all was well with the home side playing well and the crowd actually making the place feel just a little bit like a fortress again. Still, there were suggestions all the while that the home side might struggle with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having squandered a half chance early on, always looking capable of pulling something out of the bag.