Frank McNally: A game more exciting than Irish have right to expect

We discovered Republic of Ireland had a bit missing - namely, any defensive composure

Republic of Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan (right) celebrates with  midfielder Glenn Whelan (left) and  midfielder Robert Brady  after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 group E football match between Ireland and Sweden at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Republic of Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan (right) celebrates with midfielder Glenn Whelan (left) and midfielder Robert Brady after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 group E football match between Ireland and Sweden at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

 

For a while it looked like Ireland were constructing the perfect performance. They outplayed Sweden for 48 minutes: building patiently, creating chances, and taking the lead with a superb Wes Hoolahan goal.

Then, as if the whole thing had been an Ikea self-assembly job, we discovered there was a bit missing: namely any defensive composure when the Swedes finally attacked. Martin O’Neill’s structures wobbled and, before he could fix them, it was 1-1.

Still, the result leaves us in a much better position than at the same stage four years ago.

Given the generous nature of Euro 2016, where the first three in a group can qualify, the boys in green will now travel to Bordeaux and Lille with confidence they can go further.

In the meantime, for reasons both good and bad, this was a more exciting performance than Irish supporters were entitled to expect. They also had more competition than usual, thanks to a large and noisy Swedish contingent.

Fine chances

The Swedes were gradually silenced by an Irish team that made a series of fine chances before Hoolahan’s sumptuous finish. By contrast, starved of service until then, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been as useless as a lighthouse in a bog.

But the Irish goal was the signal for the beacon with the man-bun to increase wattage. And after 15 minutes of panicky Irish defending, the threat from Zlatan, crossing to nobody, was enough to dazzle Ciaran Clark into an own goal.

The last 20 minutes were less eventful, as both sides became risk averse. So in the end, the result may have been a fair one. But even though Ireland were the team that finished with two Robs (Keane and Brady), it felt to us like the Swedes had stolen a point.

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