The retractable roof was closed for last night’s World Cup qualifier between Sweden and the Republic of Ireland at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. But it was the tightness of both rearguards that ultimately dictated the outcome of a pivotal game. Two defensively austere sides fairly shared the points in a match neither team particularly deserved to win. What did occur though for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side was a corner turned. Or so we are satisfied to say.
Anything less then a victory against Austria on Tuesday night and this disciplined performance will be quickly deemed an irrelevant footnote on the Italian’s reign. While confidence will be rightly generated, the real fear is where opportunities are going to come from.
The real injection of hope comes from the back. David Forde is a journey man and a goalkeeper who has got to the point of being Ireland’s first choice keeper the long and hard way. Eleven stints at nine different clubs has seen him ply his trade at a variant of locations from Barry Town to Barnet. His delight at the final whistle was palpable, and deserved. A year ago it was an unlikely scenario to see him jump from third to first choice and despite a couple of nervous moments he was the busier of the two keepers last night and made two crucial saves; one by his fingertips with a moments notice and one at the death. There are still question marks though over some instances when he leaves his line which can be a mixed bag. But the quality shown last night was worthy of his renowned hard work in training.
The left full back position has been a long term issue. But with his return from injury after his competent display in The Faroe Islands, Marc Wilson has confirmed he is the automatic first choice. Tough maybe for Stephen Ward personally, who goes from a starter in Euro 2012 to a member of the stand-by list for this squad. However the chasm in quality between the two is significant. Wilson easily marshalled the Swedish attack along the right flank and got forward well on several occasions. Unfortunately some of his final balls lacked some accuracy.
Seamus Coleman was similar in his attacking prowess and apart from one brief lapse of concentration against Zlatan Ibrahimovic was solid in defence. And in that instance with the Swedish talisman saw a quick recovery tackle on the at times inconspicuous forward.
And it’s Coleman’s inclusion that is surely now a permanent one that could spell the end of Sean St Ledgers term as a first team regular. John O Shea is comfortable at centre back and was solid alongside Ciaran Clark. Only a return to fitness and form for Richard Dunne would see a change and still at that, it’s unlikely Coleman will be forced out. But the road back for Dunne keeps gathering extra mileage.
Paul Green’s performance in midfield was productive, his work in closing down Swedish space was effective, thankless and essential. What is worrying though is if Glen Whelan had started where would Ireland’s creative spark have of originated. For last night at least it wasn’t an issue as James McCarthy passed sharply, adroitly and essentially retained possession and thus creating space as Ireland attacked with intent.
But unfortunately the intent was not followed with an end product. James McClean was effective enough to warrant full back Mikael Lustig not to reappear after the interval and was direct and aggressive, a reminder of what got us so excited when he burst onto the scene last season. But ultimately he didn’t create enough, as was the case with Jonathon Walters. Walters was let down by the lack of confidence and control on his touch. However he was forced into dealing with a lot of aimless long balls so the blame should be shared.
Robbie Keane was clearly riled and was energetic right up until his withdrawal. His leadership was vital and evident from the camera angle that stole a view through arched green arms in the pre match huddle that caught Keane striking his chest passionately. A passion that he carried into the game. His role was important and sucked the Swedish midfield tighter to their back four then they would have envisaged.
Unfortunately Shane Long didn’t offer the same energy and was at times distracted by the ongoing tussle with West Bromwich club mate Jonas Olsson. It was the home side who had the busier and more effective of strikers in Tobias Hysen who was busy, aggressive and clever in his attempts to break down the visitors.
Wes Hoolahan had a similar cameo to that as he had against Poland and one loose ball aside at the end, he was extremely tidy, retained possession well and looked to poke holes wherever he could find space. His starting against Austria is essential if Ireland want to take the game to the visitors to Landsdowne Road on Tuesday night. The potential of a partnership with McCarthy is too tempting for the approach Trapattoni takes.
And with that will come Ireland’s problems on Tuesday. As good as last nights performance was, Andreas Isaksson was not properly tested once. And that’s something that needs to be addressed.
Has a corner really been turned? It’s in sight, but Ireland aren’t there yet.