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 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.
On the half hour he showed his powers of recovery when Alexander Kacaniklic broke after an Irish corner and overhit his cross-field pass to his captain. Ibrahimovic coolly recovered control of the situation and found Seb Larsson with an angled ball over the defence that the Sunderland midfielder really should have headed home.
Moments later Johan Elmander showed him how it should be done. Ibrahimovic again got the ball rolling but the real damage was done down the right between Larsson and Lustig with the latter getting his cross in, despite a belated attempt by James McClean to block, and the striker stealing ahead of Richard Dunne to turn a fine header past the helpless Forde.
Dunne did better just after the restart when cutting out a cross by Larsson but the defensive difficulties were clear to see with everything looking a little too improvised at times when the pressure was on.
The equaliser, though was no more than the Swedes deserved and it left Ireland in an anxious position. When they were going forward Glenn Whelan and the two wide men were managing to cause problems but as the night wore on the fear of conceding again was bound to start playing on the minds of the Irish midfielders.
It all made for some uneasy stuff with both sides pushing the ball around at considerable pace but without either side really looking to be on top of things. Certainly Ireland’s approach play started to look more disjointed with Keane, for all the home side’s possession, getting fewer chances to get into anything like a really promising position around the area.
McClean was just one of several Irish players to make some poor decisions in the period that followed, although Long was more guilty than most, most memorably when, with a quarter of an hour to play and Ireland by now trailing, he was put through down the right with Keane inside but pulled up, paused and then played the ball harmlessly into the middle of six yellow shirts.
Tiredness might have been a factor and it would certainly be nice to think it played a part in the goal that left the locals chasing the game after an hour. Marc Wilson hoofed a high angled ball pointlessly across the field towards McClean who was beaten in the air by Olsson and when Sweden broke, Ibrahimovic was played, after what seemed like an age, a wonderfully judged ball into the path of Anders Svensson who provided an emphatic finish.
There was at least a never say die attitude to admire about Ireland after that but not a lot else really with Trapattoni, whose interventions were limited to straight replacements of his two wide men, failed to make the required impact from the sidelines.