Republic of Ireland will have a massive task to overturn past European Championships history and recent form when they take on Sweden in Euro 2016 at Stade de France stadium. This Group E encounter will be played on Monday, June 13.
Ireland made it to their second successive European Championships by edging out Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs. They do not have happy memories from the 2012 edition though, losing all three group games. If anything, the Green Army will be looking to start afresh and improve their performances in France.
Martin O’Neill has brought a distinct improvement to this squad but his task is cut out at the Euros. Clubbed in a tough group with Sweden, Belgium and Italy, Ireland faces an uphill task to open their account. Being in a tough group isn’t entirely new for the Irish though who were grouped with the likes of Germany, Poland and Scotland for the qualifiers. So much has changed since with poor form and injuries threatening to derail their ambitions in France.
On the field too, their lead up hasn’t been any good either starting with a string of poor performances and culminating in a calamitous display against the lowly ranked Belarus. With talk of unrest in the dressing room and some harsh criticism from Roy Keane, the Irish camp is the last place you want to be right now!
Adding to their woes is the sight of Sweden in their first match. The Swedes have done reasonably well in continental tournaments but are yet to showcase their full potential. Even though the team had to resort to play-offs to book their place in France, this squad has the talent to go deeper in the tournament.
Eric Hamren has an ensemble cast of exceptional talent including the superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The talisman has a greater role to play in this team – much more than just scoring goals – as is evident from the lift he gave against Wales.
Ireland were dismal in their preparation with no wins in their last three matches. But they suffered only two defeats in their last 14 outings and should recapture that form to entertain any thoughts of progression. Though it is difficult to see Ireland progressing from the group, don’t discount their ability to upset Sweden’s calculations.
Sweden are in the midst of a wonderful run having lost just once in their last ten encounters. But the downside of this stat is the fact that they have won only two of their five matches since qualifying for Euro 2016. Their reliance on Ibrahimovic could be a problem as they tend to struggle in his absence. Their lack of pace in defence is another cause of worry although they managed to keep five clean sheets in their last ten matches.
Key players and team news
There will definitely be changes from the Irish after their loss to Belarus. Shane Long could be drafted back in the starting lineup and the Southampton forward could be crucial in taking advantage of the vulnerable back four of Sweden. Robbie Keane is back in training but may not start for them.
Irahimovic is one of those larger-than-life players in global football today and would be the focal point of all Sweden attacks. While there are concerns on the pace of their back four, watch out for the young Benfica starlet Victor Lindelof who is already one of the most coveted young defenders in the continent.
Ireland have a great scoring record coming into the tournament, finding the back of the net in their last 11 matches. They have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last three matches although a return of five clean sheets in 10 matches is a good indicator of their abilities.
Sweden too aren’t bad at scoring finding the back of the net in 9 out of their previous 10 encounters. A 3-0 win over Wales in the final warm-up game must be a huge confidence booster for the Swedes.
Sweden won four out of eight matches against Ireland and the latter are struggling with injuries and poor form for their key players. There are goals in this encounter and back both the sides to be on the scoring sheet. Sweden have enough in their ranks to emerge triumphant.
Both teams to score at odds of 2.1 with Betfred