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Republic of Ireland v Sweden: Republic ready to tame Zlatan - Martin O'Neill

Boss wary of Swedes threat but feels his side can cope

By Daniel McDonnell

Published 13/06/2016

Deal me in: Republic of Ireland's Shane Duffy is ready to start against Sweden
Deal me in: Republic of Ireland's Shane Duffy is ready to start against Sweden

Martin O'Neill believes his players have the mental strength to deal with the special Stade de France atmosphere and the threat presented by a confident Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Sweden captain was in typically bullish form on the eve of the Group E opener with the Republic of Ireland, asserting that "the legend can still deliver" when asked about his desire to keep going at 34.

He is relishing the opportunity to play a major tournament game in the city which has been his home for the past four years, but O'Neill said that his squad are ready to cope with the stage which they fought so hard to reach.

"Naturally it's a big occasion," said the Irish boss. "It's an emotional type of game - football is in general. I think our players can deal with that.

"This is what they're playing the game for. We deserve to be here, so let's try and do something about it when we are."

The 64-year-old was reminded of a 10-year old quote where he questioned if Ibrahimovic was over-rated and asserted that his view had changed in the intervening period.

"He's a top-class player, he's one of the best in Europe," said O'Neill.

"He's Sweden's talisman and he will be hard to keep quiet during the course of the game."

Blackburn defender Shane Duffy is understood to be in with a good chance of starting the match after impressing in the preliminaries, with prowess in the set-piece department strengthening the 24-year-old's claims to get the nod ahead of Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark.

O'Neill confirmed that the team did go through some work on dead balls in Friday's hushed-up visit to the training ground in Versailles.

Jon Walters trained over the weekend and if he gives the medical staff encouraging signs today then he will get the nod to support the in-form Shane Long.

"Jonathan is feeling pretty good," said O'Neill. "He's feeling fine and I very much hope he's available for us."

O'Neill admitted to a sense of the relief that the start has come around after the long build-up since Walters' brace against Bosnia booked the ticket.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "We've been waiting rather impatiently for this and we're looking forward to getting on with it. It would be great to get off to a great start.

"I'm sure Sweden are targeting us in the sense they will feel if they beat us, it gives them a great chance.

"It was interesting to hear comments from the Welsh camp who thought if they didn't win the first game, they weren't out of it. They're saying now (after winning) they still have work to do and that's exactly the way I would feel about it. The way the competition has evolved and way it's been sorted, I think the third game you're still going to be in it fighting for something."

O'Neill added that he will make personnel decisions factoring in that his side face three outings in eight days with rotation for Saturday's date with Belgium in Bordeaux on the cards.

A number of times in the build-up to this tournament, players who were in Poland in 2012 have groaned with every 2012-related question from the media and captain Robbie Keane is also fed up of being asked about it.

"We had a great spirit four years ago, we played against three of the best teams at that time, possibly, and we didn't win a game," he says with a hint of defiance.

"We went into that group as a group of players thinking we had a chance of getting out of the group, team spirit has always been high but we played against top, top teams and that's the way it goes in football sometimes.

"We are ready, of course we are, no question about it, the lads are excited and looking forward to the games coming around, it's been a great few weeks training, it's gone as well as it could possibly have done, everyone's getting back from injury and is ready to go."

Belfast Telegraph

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