by LIAM RICHNER
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Sweden, Group E
Ireland almost eradicated the horror show they portrayed at Euro 2012, had it not been for a Cieran Clark own goal, as the Green Army drew 1-1 with Sweden.
Martin O’Neill’s men looked more threatening than their opponents, despite their lack of possession, and took the lead through a fantastic half volley from Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan.
Sweden, who have become more and more reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic in recent years, rarely caused too many problems for the Irish defence. But the one moment the former PSG striker sprung into life, he put a dangerous ball across the six yard box, which was turned in by Clark at the near post.
Jeff Hendrick was very impressive playing as the attacking midfielder. He looked a threat on the ball, always looking for that killer pass out wide or through the ageing Swedish backline. Defensively, he also put in a very good shift, winning the ball high up the pitch and springing counter attacks.
And it was the Derby midfielder who nearly opened the scoring when he cut in from the left and blasted a shot at Andreas Isaksson, before he launched a 25-yard missile against the Sweden crossbar.
Despite the game including Ibrahimovic and the in-form Shane Long leading both attacks, the match threw up very few chances, with Hendrick again coming close in the second half with an angled shot which again was straight at Isaksson.
But finally an instinctive bit of play from Seamus Coleman on the right opened up the space for the cross and on the half volley, Hoolahan arrowed the ball into the right corner of the net.
Sweden began to push for an equaliser and it came in the last 15 minutes of play as Cieran Clark’s attempted clearance of Ibrahimovic’s cross found its way past Darren Randolph and into the Irish net.
Similarly to the events in Marseille 48 hours ago with England, Ireland fans will feel this draw like a defeat after putting in a fine offensive display and the chances to win the game comfortably. But what was evidenced was the improvement the squad has made since Poland and Ukraine four years ago. They didn’t win a single match in that tournament and although it was just a point, there is plenty more optimism about the team’s chances this time around.
Sweden were poor, and despite having a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they cannot be carried through this tournament by him alone. Wales with Gareth Bale also have a strong defensive line with Ben Davies, Ashley Williams and James Chester leading on the defensive front. Sweden on the other hand had no defensive prowess and could find themselves in trouble against the youthful Belgian and Italian forwards.