Road to Rio runs out as Trapattoni faces trap door
Manager’s time with Ireland looks to be up as Ireland stutter to Swedish defeat
Ireland’s Glenn Whelan and John O’Shea dejected after Sweden’s second goal. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The final curtain fell with a clang and a groan and a crowd that could barely raise a boo. Ireland’s efforts to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil creaked its last with just about as grim a performance as Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign has seen. A Sweden side that wasn’t a whole pile better went home with a 2-1 victory that owed most to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who towered over the night like a lighthouse.
There can’t have been many less enjoyable nights down Lansdowne Road. Neither side came to play with any invention and long before half-time the game was the worst kind of tiresome long-ball ping-pong. The two goalkeepers David Forde and Andreas Isaksson spent the night launching kicks through the night sky onto the edge of the opposition box. It was soccer as lottery. Spin the tombola and see what comes out.
The one moment of craft in the evening came when Ibrahimovic sent Anders Svensson through on the Irish goal on 56 minutes. It was light and perfectly-weighted and when Glenn Whelan’s eagerness to chase down Svensson’s run only succeeded in playing him onside, the Swedish veteran struck to beat Forde at his near post. Ireland went the rest of the night without creating a chance.
It means that Trapattoni’s time in charge will limp to its conclusion very soon – if not in Vienna on Tuesday night then certainly next month. He was still pretty bullish afterwards, insisting that Ireland’s players did their jobs. Damned by his own words, in that case.
“We think about what the others can do for us. We obviously need to win against Austria. We might make one or two changes but the players did not play bad. When we have to recover a disadvantage, we don’t have good morale. We have to think about our attitude, our mentality, out personality.
“We have done a great job. Not a good job, a great job. We have changed many players in the squad. We have to be professional. In football anything can happen. Against Austria, we should have won the game. That would have been an extra two points. Against Sweden in Stockholm, we missed three good opportunities – Shane Long, in front of goal. This is football.”
It needed to be one of those nights. One of those where team was extension of nation, where the Swedes weren’t so much playing as wading against a tide. Unique among the managers who’ve qualified Ireland for major tournaments, Trapattoni lacked the sort of notch on the bedpost that a man could brag about. There was no equivalent to Mick McCarthy’s Netherlands or Jack Charlton’s Spain.
Last night’s version of Sweden hardly belong in that sort of company. Indeed, the main question raised by their visit to Dublin was how in God’s name they managed a 4-4 draw with Germany. The affluent ease of Zlatan Ibrahimovic apart, the Swedes are every bit as lumpen as Ireland. But at least it would have been a win – when badly needed – against a serious group rival.
Ireland were hungry from the start, albeit without being altogether picky about what they feasted on or where their table manners were. They pressed high and they pressed hard, Jon Walters and Shane Long all scuttle and scud around the Swedish defence. Even James McCarthy’s best work in the opening period was toe-in rather than foot-on-ball.
By and large, it was an approach that had its way in those early exchanges. In this sort of hunting, hassling mood Trap’s Ireland are like the show-off kid in the school play - enjoyable enough for what it is but when it’s over you’re happy enough you don’t have it in your life all the time. They had Sweden highly unsettled at the back, leading to a handful of potshots from distance by Walters and Glenn Whelan. It wasn’t much but it was more than the visitors were able to claim.
And it bought them a lead, albeit one that Ireland held for a grand total of 11 minutes after Robbie Keane scored his 60th international goal. But for those 11 minutes, nobody in the ground was quite able to shift the certainty that a second would be needed.
The Swedish defence was there for the chasing and had Ireland scraped a second, the night could have held some treasure. But when it didn’t come, Ireland paid. Johan Elmander equalised on the half hour when he finished off a fine cross from right-back Mikael Lustig.
Richard Dunne was at least embarrassed to take the Man of the Match award afterwards but he still presented his best face when asked if the campaign was done and dusted now.
“We have to stay positive,” said Dunne. “We go to Austria on Tuesday and hopefully we can win that and open up the group again. After scoring early on, it’s very disappointing to lose. I thought actually a draw would have been harsh on us but to lose is disappointing. We still have a chance, there’s still games to play.
“For the first half an hour we were great and then we took our foot off the gas and they got back into it. We gave away two sloppy goals, they put in two good balls and had two good finishes. But we’ve seen them play every week in the Premier League and we should be able to do better against them.
“It’s going to be hard but we still have to believe otherwise there’s no point in carrying on. We just pick our heads up and just go again. We’ve got a tough game on Tuesday night and then if results go our way, hopefully we can get back into it. They (Sweden) have to go to Kazakhstan and we found out it was a tough place to go. So we just have to hope that they can do us a favour and that we can do ourselves a favour by winning in Austria.”
Fat chance of that.