Competition: UEFA European Championships
Fixture: Republic of Ireland v Sweden
Date: Monday, June 13, 2016
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick off time: 17:00 hrs GMT
Sweden will open their Euro 2016 finals campaign with a match against the Republic of Ireland in Group E. The two other teams in this Group are Belgium and Italy which makes this game a must win for either side.
Republic of Ireland’s form: W-W-D-D-L
The side, who are managed by former Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill, celebrated qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in November last year. Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters grabbed two goals in each half on the occasion.
They played two friendlies in March during the international break as well. They started off with a solid performance in a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the first game with defender Ciaran Clark scoring in the second minute of the game. The Swiss were in full-strength on the occasion and the result would have pleased Ireland.
They went up against Slovakia next where Shane Long and James McLean scored within two first-half minutes to cancel out the opening goal from Miroslav Stoch. However, an own goal from Paul McShane undid the good work as the game finished 2-2.
Ireland have played two preparatory matches on the eve of the Euros. The first was against Netherlands on May 27. Luuk de Jong’s 85th minute strike cancelled out Long’s opener on the half-hour mark as the two teams finished level at 1-1. On the eve of the tournament however, the side lost 2-1 to Belarus which elicited some strong criticism from assistant manager Roy Keane.
Sweden’s form: W-L-D-D-W
Sweden beat Finland 3-0 in a friendly match at Abu Dhabi in January this year. However, the coach took a second string side for the fixture as the regular starters were involved with their respective club-teams at that juncture.
The team played two friendlies in March – one against Turkey and the other against the Czech Republic. They were beaten 2-1 in Turkey with Cenk Tosun opening the scoring in the 32nd minute and scoring the winner in the 81st minute following Andreas Granqvist’s equalizer in the 74th minute. They drew 1-1 against Czech Republic after Marcus Berg’s opener had been cancelled out by Matej Vydra.
They warmed up for the finals with a couple of friendlies against Slovenia and Wales. While the match against Slovenia finished goalless, Sweden hit their stride against quality opponents in the form of Wales. Goals from Emil Forsberg and John Guidetti either side of Lustig’s 57th minute strike did the trick on the night.
Key Players and Team News:
Republic of Ireland: Southampton forward Long is the most natural goal-scorer that O’Neill and company have got in their ranks. Veteran forward Robbie Keane is also in the squad for the Euros but he is not expected to be a regular starter in this tournament. Long has the ability to break free of any defence with his blistering pace. He also possesses a great header in addition to good finishing skills on either foot.
Shay Given is an extremely experienced head between the sticks but the defence is not the greatest. John O’Shea can still do a decent job while Clarke scored an important goal not so long ago. However, the fact that both men plied their trade for either relegation threatened or relegated teams in the English Premier League does say a lot about their abilities. Seamus Coleman is probably their best player in defence.
David Meyler, Aiden McGeady, Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan and Walters can all be important from the middle of the park. Brady can be a handful from the left flank while McGeady can dazzle on the right. Walters’ goal-scoring ability is a major positive for this team who usually lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best player that Sweden has produced in a long long time. This could prove to be the last major tournament in which the talented forward plays a part. Despite being 34-years-old, the seemingly Manchester United bound forward is coming into the Euros on the backs of his most successful season as a goal-scorer in Europe. He has the knack of producing some impossible goals and is a huge asset in tournament football.
Ibrahimovic played an important role in his team’s win against Wales and will be the focal point of the attack yet again. Sweden prefer to keep it simple, playing a flat back 4-4-2 with one of the strikers dropping in behind the other striker occasionally.
They also have Guidetti and Berg to share the goal-scoring burden with Ibrahimovic. Sebastian Larsson and Kim Kallstrom continue to play a major role from midfield. The only spot of bother could be the defence but that fact that they have managed clean-sheets in their preparatory games is a positive going into Monday’s game.
The presence of Ibrahimovic in the side means gives Sweden the edge (6/4 at PaddyPower). It is hard to imagine the Ireland defenders getting to grips with one of the best strikers in the business even though he has lost a yard with age. Expect the maverick striker to hit the back of the net (8/5 at StanJames) and decide this fixture.
Ireland have the potential to cause a lot of problems with Long and it will be interesting to see how Sweden cope with the forward. However, the fact that they managed a couple of clean-sheets in a row, especially against Wales and Gareth Bale, will give them confidence.