Republic of Ireland 1-2 Sweden: Huge damage inflicted on Irish chances
Republic of Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup hang by a thread after Giovanni Trapattoni's side suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat to Group C rivals Sweden at the Aviva Stadium on Friday evening.
Robbie Keane's sixtieth international goal had put the hosts into an early lead after a bright start but Erik Hamren's side were soon level through Johan Elmander's header before veteran Anders Svensson marked his record-equalling 143rd appearance with a second-half strike to secure all three points for his side and enhance their chances of qualification at the expense of their opponents.
The result means the Republic need to win in Austria on Tuesday and away to Germany next month to maintain any faint hopes of qualification, with a further home game against Kazakhstan to follow.
Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni, as usual, selected his side the day before the match and there was no surprise that he stuck to the traditional 4-4-2 formation which has been become a customary tactic during the Italian’s reign in charge.
The 74-year-old tactician handed Richard Dunne his first competitive start in a green jersey since Euro 2012 and it didn’t take the imposing central defender long to make his presence felt.
Seamus Coleman’s set-piece was headed into the path of Shane Long by the QPR defender before Martin Olsson did brilliantly to throw himself on front of the striker’s goal bound effort to deny the hosts inside the opening minute.
With both sides desperate for the three points on offer, an open game was expected and it was the Boys in Green who started on the front foot with some slick passing and movement but were largely restricted to long-range efforts in the opening exchanges.
Stoke City duo Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters did little to trouble Andreas Isaksson in the Swedish goal from distance before Sebastian Larsson’s corner evaded and flew across the face of David Forde’s net at the other end.
It was Larsson’s former teammate, James McClean who came closest to breaking the deadlock however. The winger’s attempted cross had Isaksson frantically back-pedalling and the shot stopper’s blushes were only spared by the cross-bar.
However, Trapattoni’s side soon got their reward on twenty-one minutes. Long’s flick-on wasn’t dealt with by Mikael Lustig, allowing Keane to nip in and bravely flick past the goalkeeper and after seeing his initial effort come back off the upright, the striker had the composure to pick himself up and fire home.
That was as good as it got for the hosts as going behind galvanised their Scandanavian opponents and altered the flow of the game.
The visitors looked for an instant reply as Elmander’s snapshot tested the handling of Forde before a swift counterattack should have led to the equaliser but Larsson fluffed his lines and headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Trapattoni’s charges didn’t take notice of the warning signs as Sweden struck level shortly after the half hour mark. Lustig made up for his poor defensive header which led to Keane’s opener by producing an inch-perfect cross for Elmander to head home after getting on front of Dunne.
The Norwich City striker went close to scoring his second just after the break but failed to keep his volley from Martin Olsson’s centre on-target.
However, Forde was called into action moments later as Larsson latched onto Albin Ekdal’s perfectly weighted ball but the Millwall shot stopper was quick off his line to clear the danger.
The visitors were in complete control and hit the front on 56 minutes when Zlatan Ibrahimovic played a one-two with Svensson before the 37-year-old veteran out paced Glenn Whelan to fire past Forde from a tight angle.
Trapattoni introduced debutant Anthony Pilkington in an attempt to get back into the game but not even the Norwich winger nor the encouragement of the 50,000 capacity crowd could lift the one-dimensional hosts.
Isaksson’s goal was barely threatened in the final stages, as Ireland seemed to acknowledge their faith was sealed. Trapattoni’s side now travel to Vienna on Tuesday to face Austria in a must-win game but three points may not even be enough as the Italian's reign as manager heads seems to be entering it's final stages.
Germany lead Group C on 19 points after their 3-0 victory over Austria, with Sweden on 14 points in second place.Ireland and Austria are a further three points behind the Swedes with three games to play.