Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Republic of Ireland rue own goal in Sweden sour night in Paris

Rep of Ireland 1 - Sweden 1

By Daniel McDonnell

This was the one that got away. Martin O'Neill couldn't dress it up any differently. "I should be speaking to you here with three points instead of one," he sighed, a theme that ran through his press conference.

The sombre mood was a comedown from an occasion that looked like becoming one of the great Irish football evenings.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from the beautiful moment that Wes Hoolahan scored a superb goal on the stage that his talent has always deserved to grace. The quirks of this format meant that his 48th-minute half-volley nudged Ireland towards the round of 16.

But in a role reversal from a campaign where O'Neill's men retrieved a number of points from grim positions, they lost composure and ended up sharing the spoils with a limited Sweden side that was incapable of mustering a shot on target between them. Ciaran Clark's own goal saved their day.

The sense of disappointment was clear on the faces of the Irish players at the final whistle. They will have to summon the underdog spirit against Belgium and Italy to stay in this competition; this was the fixture where they had no reason to feel inferior.

O'Neill's players set out with a strategy that did concentrate on keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic under tight supervision.

They succeeded in keeping him quiet with Glenn Whelan his main pursuer and his colleagues taking responsibility when the PSG star drifted into their zone.

It was the youngsters that showed the way with long-term colleagues Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick - doing their bit to keep the average down at 24 - providing the spark to bring Ireland into opposition territory. They were at the heart of the opportunities that should have yielded an opener.

The breakthrough came after the ball was worked to Seamus Coleman, who jinked and darted down the right before teasing in the cross that was gleefully converted by the 34-year-old man-of-the-match Hoolahan.

The Republic of Ireland were in dreamland. Then, they fell asleep. By the hour mark, Sweden should have levelled things up during a spell that was a portent of things to come.

They won corners that caused unnecessary panic at the heart of the Irish defence and Darren Randolph saved brilliantly from an attempted Clark clearance.

When Ibrahimovic nipped away from O'Shea with 20 minutes remaining, Clark saw danger coming but was unable to avoid adding to it by steering a speculative cross into the net with the horrified Randolph watching on. It would be too simplistic to the pin the blame on the centre-half, however.

O'Neill's midfield diamond sacrifices width and it worked when the Republic were on the front foot and the full-backs pushed forward, but in the period after the breakthrough, Sweden's left full Martin Olsson grew in prominence and Coleman was outnumbered.

O'Neill looked for switches that might win the game. Robbie Keane was introduced for Hoolahan - the Norwich player said his calf was tight - and the skipper would only manage three touches.

Late on, Aiden McGeady was summoned to help Coleman and attempt to conjure some magic. The subs didn't fire although the problem is that O'Neill didn't really have any other recognised match-winners to turn to.

He did have legs to protect the lead and the mistake here was letting it go against an average opponent.

The clearest sight of a clincher came in the immediate aftermath of Clark's misfortune when Hendrick called Isaksson into action. Thereafter, it was nervy stuff.

This morning they will be down, but they are certainly not out.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman, O'Shea, Clark, Brady, McCarthy (McGeady 85), Whelan, Hendrick, Hoolahan (Keane 78), Walters (McClean 63), Long.

Subs not used: Westwood, Keogh, Duffy, Christie, Ward, Meyler, Murphy,

Quinn, Given.

Booked: McCarthy, Whelan.

Goals: Hoolahan 48.

Sweden: Isaksson, Lustig (Johansson 44), Lindelof, Granqvist, Olsson, Larsson, Lewicki (Ekdal 86), Kallstrom, Forsberg, Berg (Guidetti 59), Ibrahimovic.

Subs not used: Olsen, Jansson, Hiljemark, Wernbloom, Augustinsson, Kujovic, Durmaz, Zengin, Carlgren.

Booked: Lindelof.

Goals: Clark 71 og.

Att: 73,419

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).

Belfast Telegraph