After a painstaking wait Martin O’Neill’s men finally got to kick off their Euro 2016 campaign this evening against Sweden. All the talk before the game was of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Could we keep him quiet? If we could, would it be enough?
O’Neill’s team selection suggested that positivity was the order of the day. Wes Hoolahan starting the game is usually a signal of attacking intent.
The first 15 minutes were full of hard work and scrappy midfield play from both sides without any real danger at either end. Then Ciaran Clark headed across the face of the Swedish goal towards John O’Shea, it should have been an easy tap in for the big man but he was caught flat-footed, failing to make contact.The aggression in attacking the ball in the box was encouraging at least.
Jeff Hendrick had Ireland’s first shot in anger, his effort skipped off the turf and was well saved by Andreas Isaksson. Robbie Brady too went close, cutting inside onto his so called weaker foot before putting his laces through the ball. His shot flew just over the bar. The left back was involved again minutes later as the two in a one-two with Jeff Hendrick who unleashed a curling effort onto the Swedes crossbar.
Ireland looked the more dangerous side but struggled to assert any influence in central midfield. Glenn Whelan and in particular James McCarthy failed to impose themselves on the game in the first half. The Everton midfielder picked up a booking in the later stages of the second half for pulling back his opponent after a poor touch caught him out of position. The game was there for the taking if Ireland could get the ball down in midfield and bring Hoolahan into the game in advanced positions. The scores were level at the break.
A minute into the second half and Hendrick tested Isaksson again with a well struck shot. Seconds later the stadium erupted in elation as Wes Hoolahan gave Ireland the lead. Excellent work from Seamus Coleman down the right as he beat two men and clipped a ball into the box. Hoolahan came rushing onto the ball showing every ounce of his exceptional technique as he caught the ball on the half volley, guiding it into the side netting.
Let’s get this party started, right? Not so fast.
For the next ten minutes the Swedes laid siege to the Irish goal, sending in a barrage of dangerously hopeful crosses. It was panic stations for a while but Ireland managed to wither the storm. There was momentary respite for the Irish team until Zlatan broke down the left side of the penalty area before crossing the ball for Clark to head into his own net.
One a piece, it had been coming. Ireland were playing for a draw ever since they went one nil up.
The most frustrating part is that as soon as Ireland scored they immediately handed the initiative to the Swedes and when they equalized we took the bull by the horns again for a period. Hoolahan was taken off and any real control in the attacking third left the pitch with him.
The final stages of the game were full of punted balls without any real aim. O’Neill should have taken McCarthy off after he gave a free away by pulling Martin Olsson back instead of just blocking his run. He was hamstrung by the yellow card he picked up in the first half and was largely ineffective for the rest of the game.
This result will be positively spun but in reality it’s two points dropped. Ireland were unlucky to go in level at half time but there wasn’t enough conviction in our play in the second half to claim the win. We go again.