What: 2014 World Cup Qualifying – Group C
Who: Sweden vs Republic of Ireland
When: Friday 22nd March, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden
Sweden Look To Deliver Knockout Blow
This game presents a great opportunity for Erik Hamren’s side to deliver a hefty blow to the Republic of Ireland, on paper the team most likely to threaten their hopes of finishing in the top two of this group alongside Germany. They come into the qualifier on a run of decent form too. Although their last game was a friendly loss to Argentina, the South Americans are arguably the form team in international football at present, and the previous two games saw the Swedes defeat England and produce a scintillating comeback against Germany, from 4-0 down, to draw 4-4. That result means finishing top of this group is not out of the question for Sweden.
The build-up to this game has featured, unusually, much debate about the stadium, with a decision on whether to leave the new Friends Arena’s roof open or closed being continually delayed – it may be left late until it is decided. The pitch is also a point of some contention, with a new grass playing surface being laid only on Monday due to an ice hockey game taking place last week.
Sweden will hope that once the play gets under way, Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues his remarkable form. He has scored in his last four games for his country and 31 in total for his club side Paris Saint-Germain this season. Rasmus Elm and Sebastian Larsson will provide much of the creativity behind Ibrahimovic for Hamren’s attack-minded side, who have netted 10 goals in their last three matches. Continue that form and three points beckon.
Giovanni Trapattoni Places Faith in Youth
With Giovanni Trapattoni under significant pressure, this represents a huge game for the Italian, who turned 74 on St Patrick’s Day. If the Irish lose, Trapattoni will face calls for his head once again, particularly if they were to suffer an embarrassment like the 6-1 stuffing they were subjected to by Germany earlier in the qualifiers. With a game against Austria coming up next week, four points out of six is the minimum the Irish must take to maintain a realistic chance of playing in Brazil next year.
A 2-0 win over Poland last month was an important victory, albeit in a friendly, to restore some morale to a beleaguered Irish team that endured a miserable 2012, in which they floundered at the European Championship and looked anything but one of the continent’s top 16 teams.
Ireland do have some useful young players – Seamus Coleman, Wes Hoolahan, James McCarthy and Anthony Pilkington have all excelled in the Premier League for their club sides. Yet there is a suspicion that they are not being used effectively – Hoolahan is a classic case in point: A creative and technical player who has not been trusted by Trapattoni, but who could add something crucial to the team. With Robbie Keane ageing in the MLS, there are a lack of quality experienced players in this Irish set-up that is holding them back. With the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Damien Duff, stalwarts over the years, shunted aside, Keane has urged his young team-mates to “grow up fast”. Nothing less will do against the Swedes.
Germany 4-4 Sweden (16/10; World Cup qualifying)
Sweden 4-2 England (14/11; Friendly)
Sweden 2-3 Argentina (06/02; Friendly)
Republic of Ireland:
Faroe Islands 1-4 Republic of Ireland (16/10; World Cup qualifying)
Republic of Ireland 0-1 Greece (14/11; Friendly)
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Poland (06/02; Friendly)
Sweden: Johan Elmander; Martin Olsson
Republic of Ireland: Glenn Whelan (doubt); Jonathan Walters (doubt)
Players to watch
Sweden – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Elm, Larsson, Ola Toivonen and Kim Kallstrom are all players who can cause most teams a few headaches, but there is no getting away from the danger Ibrahimovic poses. Along with Radamel Falcao, probably the most feared forward in world football, the PSG striker is one a defender can never let his guard down against. And even the best minds in the game can struggle to contain the temperamental genius that is Ibrahimovic. Trapattoni insists his team can handle the 31-year-old. Maybe they can – but whether they will or not is another question entirely.
Republic of Ireland – James McClean: McClean enjoyed a superb breakthrough year with Sunderland last season, but has failed to replicate the same form this time around. Yet the youngster remains a tireless worker with an eye for a cross and an effective, direct style. He will be crucial to connect Ireland’s defensively-minded midfield with Keane up front, and McClean has a knack for being involved in goalscoring moves.
This will be a real clash in styles between two teams with vastly different football philosophies. Hamren has installed a quite ‘un-Swedish’ brand of football, encouraging his men to attack with some considered style and at times they have produced fabulous football under the 55-year-old.
The Irish are likely to start with their usual 4-5-1 system and Keane could find himself isolated and feeding off scraps if they end up pushed back by Sweden’s talented ball players in midfield. The Republic of Ireland’s young midfield will have to cope with substantial pressure, as will their defence, and it will be a huge test of their abilities. Younger players struggle at times with decision making and there is a risk of the Irish making mistakes under pressure from Sweden’s established stars.
Ultimately, this comes down to a clash between a side full of confidence and form and one who have looked tired and naive in their most recent matches. And with Zlatan Ibrahimovic around, he and his colleagues can take full advantage. Sweden 4-1 Republic of Ireland.
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