Sweden take the points but Ireland’s display offers further hints of progress

Unlucky own goal late in the first half settles opening World Cup qualifier in Tallaght

Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt is challenged by Ireland duo  Denise O’Sullivan and Saoirse Noonan during the Women’s World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Sweden’s Amanda Ilestedt is challenged by Ireland duo Denise O’Sullivan and Saoirse Noonan during the Women’s World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

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Republic of Ireland 0 Sweden 1

No shame in giving the Olympic silver medallists a late scare. None at all.

The end game was simple enough. Leanne Kiernan would dash into the fray, scurry down the right and plant an injury-time ball on to the head of makeshift centre forward Louise Quinn.

Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson knows that old Irish trick, instantly sending in Nilla Fischer to cloak Quinn.

Last Monday Ireland manager Vera Pauw promised a tactical surprise for Katie McCabe. The Ireland skipper fully expected another 90 minutes as a back-tracking wing back but from kick-off she was drifting off Ireland’s lone striker Heather Payne – forever more known as The Running Woman.

McCabe settled into the left of a compact midfield four. It meant she could bring her shooting boots across the pond after some spectacular hits for Arsenal this season.

On nine minutes McCabe let fly, catching it poorly, as a rare chance flashed wide.

By then the mighty Swedes were reconfiguring the matrix. They are used to seeing blocks of five and four in front of them. It comes with the territory.

With Quinn marshalling the Irish defence and some early intercepts by Denise O’Sullivan, as the North Carolina Courage midfield general threatened the performance of a lifetime, the world number two nation began probing for weaknesses.

Sweden’s first port of call was Courtney Brosnan, following some glaring errors against Ukraine and Australia, but the Everton goalkeeper refused to falter. There would many, many shots and none bested her.

The first collective inhale from a crowd of 4,017, mostly young girls, came on 18 minutes as Stina Blackstenius strolled into the box and took a tumble under Jamie Finn’s challenge. Swiss referee Deborah Anex refused to blink. Everyone could exhale. Ireland were blessed.

Sweden simply upped their tempo, coming through the middle where O’Sullivan slammed the door in Filippa Angeldal’s face. The Cork wizard never wastes a patch of open grass with an extra touch.

A potential disaster looms as O’Sullivan appeared to badly damage her elbow in injury-time.

Back to the game, on 26 minutes Finn won a corner for McCabe to aim at Quinn’s noggin. Was this to be the moment? Unfortunately, these tall yellow trees love their set-piece defending as much as they plan to score from corners. The attack floundered but only after McCabe skipped between two Swedes on the end line, trying to carve out a miracle.

Blackstenius was growing impatient and 10 minutes before the break she launched a rocket that Brosnan expertly tipped over the crossbar. A series of corners poured petrol on the fire, as Quinn’s green line somehow held.

That’s what makes the concession of the goal before half-time seem so cruel. Just as the Irish wing backs got up the pitch, Angeldal sparked a rapid counterattack, finding the long-striding Blackstenius who was being shepherded by Savannah McCarthy and Quinn. Until McCarthy slipped, inviting a low shot that caught Quinn’s heal and rolled passed a wrong-footed Brosnan.

Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan is wrong-footed by a defelction off Louise Quinn as Ireland concede an own goal during the World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan is wrong-footed by a defelction off Louise Quinn as Ireland concede an own goal during the World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Tallaght Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The second 45 minutes was supposed to descend into a high-intensity attack versus defence training session but, surprisingly, Sweden sat back and invited Ireland on.

Sofia Jakobsson took exception to McCabe getting out of trouble by nutmegging the Swedish number 10. The yellow card rightly appeared and the resulting free-kick saw Lucy Quinn miss the target with a low shot.

Lina Hurtig was also booked for tripping Payne with Finn exacting rapid revenge as the yellow cards began to flow but Ireland wasted the moment.

Brosnan deserves enormous credit for recovering from the mental torture of previous caps to keep Ireland in this contest. Louise Quinn must have vertigo from keeping tabs on Blackstenius and one particular twist and turn forced the New Jersey born goalkeeper into another fine save.

For what Brosnan lacks in slick distribution she makes up for in courage. This showing should fill her confidence to the brim.

Same goes for the rest of them. Now Ireland must patiently pick Finland apart in Helsinki on Tuesday like Sweden did to them. Their evolution demands it, although without O’Sullivan’s firefly presence that task could be beyond them.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Brosnan; Finn, Fahey, Louise Quinn, McCarthy, O’Gorman; Lucy Quinn (Barrett, 74 mins), Connolly (Noonan, 90 mins), O’Sullivan, McCabe; Payne (Kiernan, 74 mins).

SWEDEN: Lindahl; Glass, Llestedt, Eriksson, Andersson; Bennison (Zigiotti Olme, 76 mins), Rolfö, Angeldal; Jakobsson (Fischer, 88 mins), Blackstenius, Hurtig (Schough, 60 mins).

Referee: Deborah Anex (Switzerland).

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