Ireland take share of spoils after cracking opener with Sweden
Wes Hoolahan’s wonder strike is cancelled out by Ciaran Clark own goal
Republic of Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan opens the scoring in the Euro 2016 Group E match against Sweden at Stade de France in Paris. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters/Livepic
In a week’s time the Irish might well be looking back on this, a game they led but drew, and wondering what might have been.
After a second half, though, in which they found themselves slightly desperately defending the narrow lead Wes Hoolahan handed them barely two minutes after the break, they have some cause for relief that it did not end up being worse for them. In any case, Sweden on the evidence of this might find themselves ruefully reflecting on the two points that got away.
The lead Ireland took when Hoolahan had scored was well deserved for Martin O’Neill’s side had created almost all of the game’s meaningful chances up until that point. That they allowed their opponents to dictate things after that was almost bound to cost them and had Zlatan Ibrahimovic had his finishing boots on, the game could certainly have been lost.
O’Neill, to be fair, was positive in both his team selection and the substitutions he made and there was much to be impressed by in the performance. Late on, though, they were scraping by slightly and while James McClean did go close at one stage after coming on, Ireland’s attacking play lacked the confidence or poise it had possessed in the first period. The bulk of the late chances came at Darren Randolph’s end of the pitch even if the goalkeeper did not actually have to make too many standout saves.
Ultimately, it was a Ciaran Clark’s own goal that gave Sweden their point which was hard on a defender who had generally risen to the occasion well enough over the 90 minutes. The 26-year-old had laid down an early marker for Marcus Berg with a hefty challenge in the opening minutes that went unpunished.
It wasn’t to be the last time that the Aston Villa defender to was to be shown some leniency by the Serbian referee and it was nearly half-time before anyone was shown a booking with James McCarthy pushing things a little too far by tugging needlessly at Emil Forsberg well inside the Swedish territory.
Later, Glenn Whelan would get a yellow too but for the most part the Irish didn’t need to resort to anything untoward as the Swedes struggled to cause O’Neill any serious issues over the course of a first half in which Randolph was only really seriously stretched once, under a Mikael Lustig cross which the goalkeeper came and gathered very coolly.
A fluffed clearance was far less impressive but then, as on so many other occasions, the Swedes’ attacking play broke down when it mattered and Ireland actually looked most ruffled when in possession but being chased down by yellow shirts inside their own half.
Possession-wise it was very even at that stage with Erik Hamren’s side pushing the ball about in no-man’s land rather more effectively than O’Neill’s. It was Ireland who created all of the early chances with O’Shea, so solid looking at the back, passing up a terrific chance to score after Clark had flicked on a Brady corner before the left back shot just over himself. Then, Jeff Hendrick, after some lovely build-up play through the centre, clattered the crossbar from fully 25 yards.
Hamren must have known things would have to change if his side was to get on top and have any serious hope of going on to win the game, but the event that turned the game on its head was not what he would have hoped. Comfortably the less impressive of Ireland’s two full backs over the course of the first 45 minutes, Séamus Coleman started the second 45 with a moment of panache that was to set up the game’s opener.
From a quick throw in on the left, the ball was worked across field to the Donegalman who skipped past Martin Olsson when he had looked set to cross first time. He then produced an angled chip that narrowly eluded Erik Johansson before falling perfectly for Hoolahan who swept it first-time past Andreas Isaksson and into the right hand side of the net.
The celebrations had barely ended when Sweden were on the attack and Randolph had to save smartly when Clark, under pressure, almost turned a corner from the right past his own goalkeeper – something he would effectively manage some 20 minutes later. But the pattern of the contest changed almost immediately with Ireland suddenly forced to play on the edge of their own area as Sweden stepped things up a gear with Shane Long and Jon Walters now required to serve as outlets for team-mates anxious to relieve the pressure.
There were a couple of close calls in the spell that followed, most notably when Olsson’s low angled cross was turned just wide by the Swedish skipper but Ibrahimovic’s moment would arrive soon enough.
It came after Ireland seemed to let their guard down a little and Forsberg was allowed, a little too easily, to play a ball down the left-hand side of the box from 25 metres. After it had been neatly helped into his path by John Guidetti, the team’s star striker stole a yard on O’Shea and his cross obliged Clark, who had Seb Larsson lurking behind him, to do something, although ideally it would not have been to head the ball to the right rather than the left of the nearby post.
O’Neill didn’t leave it long to react, bringing on Robbie Keane for Walters then Aiden McGeady for McCarthy but his side found their early momentum hard to recover and it was Sweden who looked the more likely to grab a winner over the closing stages. The Irish held out, though, and now know that they will most likely have to beat Italy or Belgium if they are to secure a place in the second round.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Séamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, John O’Shea, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy (Aiden McGeady, 85 mins) , Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan (Robbie Keane, 48 mins); Jonathan Walters (James McClean, 64 mins), Shane Long. Yellow cards: McCarthy (43 mins), Whelan (77 mins).
SWEDEN: Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig (Erik Johansson, 45 mins), Victor Lindelof, Andreas Granqvist, Martin Olsson; Sebastian Larsson, Kim Kallstrom, Oscar Lewicki (Albin Ekdal, 86mins ), Emil Forsberg , Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Berg (John Guidetti, 59 mins).
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).