Reasons for optimism abound after this fine display
Trapattoni’s selection policy works out in the end
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper David Forde makes the save
So what seems like a lucky dip way of picking the national team worked out in the end. Turns out Glenn Whelan’s injury and the irresponsible handling of Robbie Brady became a positive, thanks to James McCarthy’s influence on this game.
For such a young man, he was nothing short of masterful. I was a little worried about calling Sweden a team that are only slightly above average. But I was right! Especially when Zlatan is not in the humour, Sweden are not up to much.
The Irish players figured this out almost immediately, most of them grabbing hold of the contest and, more importantly, possession.
The honesty and graft of this new-look Irish team must be commended, with the one regret being we failed to force a single save from Andreas Isaksson.
Our two best chances were flittered away by Shane Long’s ballooned effort and Robbie Keane overcooking that second half cross for Jonathan Walters.
Shame, as this could have been a bolt from nowhere. It could have been a night those of us lucky enough to be in Stockholm would never forget.
Still, plenty of reasons to be looking forward to Tuesday and Austria’s visit.
The three teams that picked us apart in the Euros, and Germany last October, play a different style, as Ibrahimovic started, and stayed, well up the field beside Hysén. This made it relatively easier to handle the big Paris St Germain striker.
Also, in stark contrast to our long-serving marquee player, Ibrahimovic had little interest in contributing an industrious shift.
Robbie Keane was like a 22- year-old version of himself from minute one to the hour mark. Understandably, he faded thereafter. The replacement of him was astute.
Wes Hoolahan’s arrival turned the Irish midfield into one beating heart. It took the manager four years to go see Wesley at Norwich and realise he is good enough, but he still doesn’t trust him enough to start him.
Wesley brought Paul Green into the game more, gave McCarthy a quickening too, and almost put Andy Keogh through on goal twice.
You could see the future almost: an Irish midfield matching up against top level opposition. Someday it will happen again.
Not that Green and McCarthy weren’t well in the game up to that. Their endeavour was fantastic.
The Irish back four were never under severe pressure either, except when Ibrahimovic’s perfectly weighted header set up the Hysén volley that David Forde did well to save.
Any doubts we all had about Forde must also be cast aside. For now. He needed to produce such an assured performance for us to get a point. One shaky corner aside, he made three big saves and dominated the aerial ball.
Marc Wilson and Seamus Coleman were not like the usual Trapattoni full-backs, overlapping so much that it surprised the Swedes. After all these years, it is like a eureka moment: let’s take the burden off our outnumbered midfielders by releasing the full backs! By letting them off the leash, the benefit was clear for all to see.
Firstly, it ensured we had more possession. It has been a while since we have controlled a game for so long.
The selection of Walters was justified. The manager got the balance right in midfield, albeit by accident. We would have got plenty of football from Brady but not the energy and power of Walters. That mattered against such an experienced team.
James McClean’s strength and aggression caused problems down the left as well. Sweden also struggled with the intensity of our midfield, the energy of McCarthy, Green and Robbie. It ruffled the Swedes, denying them any rhythm.
But it’s the initial non-selection of McCarthy that stands out for me. On this evidence it was a crazy decision. He was superb if not without flaws. Someday, if allowed the oxygen to grow in an Irish midfield, he can be the dominant figure for us at a major tournament.
Shane Long will always be able to play the bustling old school centre forward’s role but it’s his lack of composure, especially in the 10th minute when through on goal, from a McCarthy pass, that could cost us later down the road.
Not that I would be too hard on him, or anyone after that showing. Ireland are back in this group now. A point in Sweden is significant. It also releases the pressure on Trapattoni so I don’t think he will change anything for Tuesday.
Austria beat the Faroes 6-0 last night but I wouldn’t take too much notice of it. This team is capable of beating Austria, playing like this. Just no more messing about. Keep McCarthy and Green in place, even if Whelan is fit. After so much doom and gloom: the nightmare of Poland last summer, Kazakhstan was a brutal experience too and Germany had all of us on the canvas. Six dull competitive games and now this. Let’s just enjoy the weekend.