Sweden draw an opportunity missed for Ireland

The Boys in Green were forced to share the spoils with Erik Hamren's side after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's cross was headed into the goal by Ciaran Clark


Martin O'Neill's failure to address his side's right-sided deficiencies ultimately cost the Republic of Ireland a victory in their Euro 2016 opener against Sweden.

Although O'Neill's decision to opt for a midfield diamond augured possession dominance over Erik Hamren's 4-4-2, Ireland instead exhibited a reactive, direct approach. Sweden, therefore, saw more of the ball, but the close attentions of Glenn Whelan ensured that their talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn't freely use it to dangerous effect.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old Oscar Lewicki found himself overrun on the right of Sweden's central midfield. Jeff Hendrick, on the left of Ireland's diamond, combined with Robbie Brady to unleash three dangerous strikes from the Malmo midfielder's zone. One of Hendrick's two, struck in the 33rd minute after a one-two with Shane Long bisected Lewicki, rattled the crossbar. Brady's much vaunted set-piece delivery also created Ireland's best chance of the first half, when captain John O'Shea somehow failed to convert Ciaran Clark's near post flick on.

Although he would later create Ireland's opener, Seamus Coleman was frustratingly restricted in his positioning, only advancing deep into Swedish territory for the first time in the 29th minute. Coleman's reticence could well be explained by the dysfunction that O'Neill's side were also experiencing on the right of their midfield.

James McCarthy, a fitness concern in the lead-up to this fixture, displayed his lack of match fitness with a poor first touch and a string of avoidable fouls. Worse, the Everton midfielder consistently failed to shuffle across midfield to confront Norwich City left back Martin Olsson. McCarthy's positional failure only really became a live issue after Hoolahan's early second half opener.

As is almost customary, Irish elation at opening the scoring immediately morphed into panic and confusion as Sweden looked to hit back quickly. Clark, who had defended his penalty box in exemplary fashion for 50 minutes, made three errors in quick succession.

The first two were shanked clearances in the direction of his own goal, one of which Darren Randolph had to dive acrobatically to repel. The third saw the Aston Villa defender allow Ibrahimovic to get in front of him and flick one of several Olsson crosses wide.

The introduction of James McClean and Robbie Keane failed to address the inability of McCarthy to competently defend Ireland's right side. Eventually, O'Neill paid for this inadequacy, when Emil Forsberg availed of McCarthy's absence to slide a pass through to John Guidetti in the box. The Celta Vigo striker found the otherwise impotent Ibrahimovic, whose cross was turned in by the frazzled Clark.

Although Ireland could have gone ahead again within minutes, when the outstanding Hendrick failed to capitalise on an Andreas Granqvist error, McCarthy's failings continued to put them in danger. Olsson was again free to deliver an excellent low 82nd minute cross into the Irish corridor of uncertainty that somehow managed to evade all who lay in wait.

Finally, with just five minutes remaining, O'Neill belatedly took the hint and removed McCarthy, introducing Aiden McGeady in his stead on the right of a 4-4-2. 

This was very much a case of an opportunity missed for Ireland. Despite a reserved outlook, at odds with the system and personnel selected, Ireland were comfortably the better of a Swedish side that failed to register a single shot on target.

That this dominance was not converted into three vital points is directly attributable both to O'Neill's circumspection and his delay in substituting a toiling James McCarthy.