Clark own-goal sees Sweden hold impressive Ireland to opening stalemate
Lee Gormley | June 13, 2016
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Sweden
- Republic of Ireland dominate first-half with majority of chances
- First 45 minutes ends 0-0 despite Irish coming close
- Wes Hoolahan fires in sublime opener after 48 minutes in second period
- Ciaran Clark heads in own-goal to level game on 71 minutes
- Sweden hold impressive Irish to 1-1 draw in Group E opener
Ireland held by Sweden in maiden outing
Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden in their Euro 2016 Group E opener, with Wes Hoolahan’s superb second-half strike eventually being cancelled out by an own-goal from centre back Ciaran Clark.
The Boys in Green were impressive throughout but tired towards the final exchanges and Hoolahan’s impressive half-volley after 48 minutes looked likely of handing them a winning start in France, but strong work from Zlatan Ibrahimovic led to Clark heading into his own net.
After a gallant qualifying campaign to reach the finals, Ireland showed exactly why they belong in the tournament and kept the threat of Ibrahimovic at bay for the majority of proceedings, though they had to settle for just a point in their maiden group outing.
Ireland start strongly
In front of a sea of green at the Stade de France, Ireland got stuck in straight from the off, with Aston Villa defender Clark making his presence felt with a crunching collision with Marcus Berg, leaving the striker on the deck.
Long balls forward were the order of play for both nations early on, as the Swedes searched for talisman Ibrahimovic and Ireland lumped balls towards Stoke City attacker Jonathan Walters, while the Emerald Isle were doing well to limit any threat.
Jeff Hendrick was on the end of Ireland’s most meaningful attack so far after nine minutes, with the Derby County midfielder latching onto a loose ball on the edge of penalty area and firing at goal, but Sweden stopper Andreas Isaksson was able to parry clear.
Immediately at the other end, Berg chested down a lofted pass forward inside the Irish box to edge away from Seamus Coleman, though the experienced frontman was unable to get a shot away with Darron Randolph quickly coming out to retrieve the ball.
Robbie Brady’s set-pieces, especially from corners, were beginning to trouble the Swedes and skipper John O’Shea was agonisingly close to opening proceedings with 17 minutes gone, as he pounced at a knockdown from an outswinging delivery.
Dominant Irish pushing hard for opener
Andreas Granqvist and Walters contested for yet another long ball forward for the Boys in Green and the latter looked to have played Long through, though the referee had already blown as the Sweden centre back went down softly to win a foul.
With half-an-hour almost played, Norwich City wideman Brady cut inside from the left flank and unleashed a thumping right-footed effort towards goal, with his attempt fizzing narrowly over Isaksson’s crossbar to give Sweden a reprieve.
The Irish again had their opponents rattled soon after, when Hendrick linked up brilliantly with Long and sending a curling shot crashing off the crossbar after what was the best move of the game so far on 33 minutes. Such close chances were a clear warning sign to Sweden, who had failed to create any clear-cut opportunities themselves.
Superb build-up from Hoolahan in the middle eventually led to a promising chance for a lurking Long in the Swedish six-yard box, following a wicked cross from Brady on the left wing, but the Southampton striker couldn’t connect and saw penalty appeals swiftly turned down by the officials.
Further encouraging play from Hoolahan and Walters looked to be opening up space for a last opportunity before the break, but James McCarthy’s lack of control at the decisive moment led him to concede a free-kick and pick up a cautioning too.
Celtic full back Mikael Lustig’s game ended before half-time as he was replaced by Erik Johansson after picking up a knock, while the Irish ended the opening 45 minutes as the most dominant force at the Stade de France.
Hoolahan rifles in opening goal
The Irish began the second period as they ended the first, with another shot being fired towards Isaksson’s post from Rams midfielder Hendrick, though his saved attempt wasn’t to matter as teammate Hoolahan brilliantly opened the scoring on 48 minutes.
Sending the Irish supporters into hysterics, the Canaries playmaker latched onto a Coleman cross into the penalty area, rifling in the first goal with a superbly timed, right-footed half-volley and handing his nation a deserved foothold on proceedings.
At the other end, Randolph was then the hero after getting down rapidly to thwart a header from Ibrahimovic, while Emil Forsberg also missed a glorious opportunity to equalise from close-range, instead haplessly slicing wide.
A host of green bodies thwarted Ibrahimovic from grafting out a chance before the hour mark, as O’Shea and Clark helped to crowd the frontman out, who had dispatched a double at this very stadium in the French Cup final only weeks ago.
The Manchester United target then came close as he held off Clark and acrobatically shot towards Randolph’s far right post, a tense moment for the Irish fans as the effort narrowly sailed wide, while former Celtic striker John Guidetti replaced Berg in the Swedish strikeforce.
Clark own-goal levels encounter
Potters midfield anchor Glenn Whelan was enjoying success in the middle of the park and got the better of Ibrahimovic after 62 minutes to clear any apparent danger, with O’Neill then thrusting West Bromwich Albion winger James McClean into action in place of Walters.
Ibrahimovic cut a frustrated figure in the Swedish attack, with the likes of Sebastian Larsson and Kim Kallstrom unable to give their frontman any much-needed service, with the former Barcelona hitman being caught offside on several occasions.
After heavy pressure with 71 minutes gone, the Irish defence was finally unlocked as Ibrahimovic edged past O’Shea to send in a dangerous delivery which Villa centre back Clark helplessly headed into his own net to get Sweden back into the clash.
With around 10 minutes remaining it was the turn of Ireland’s all-time marksman Robbie Keane to enter for goalscorer Hoolahan, with Aiden McGeady also coming on for the Boys in Green. Though, they couldn’t help find a late winner as the Irish were held to a 1-1 stalemate and are 19/4 with Coral to overcome Belgium in their second Group E outing.