Sweden and Ireland draw Euro 2016 opener
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last visit to the Stade de France in May yielded two goals and an assist for Edinson Cavani. That was in the 4-2 demolition of Marseille in the French Cup final with his all-conquering club Paris Saint-Germain. Monday night’s trip with his national side Sweden ended in a 1-1 draw with Ireland.
Ibrahimovic didn’t score but he caused the confusion which led Ciaran Clark to head into his own net. It was unfortunate for the defender who, along with skipper John O’Shea, had shackled Ibrahimovic to a couple of snatched chances. The great man’s grimaces told the story.
Ireland were the brighter side and had the better chances to take the lead before the pause.
Robbie Brady went close with a shot from distance minutes before Jeff Hendrick drove onto the bar.
“We were very dominant, said James McCarthy after the match. “And we could have definitely gone in at half-time a goal or two up. So that was disappointing.”
With Ireland in the ascendance and bereft of service, Ibrahimovic dropped back into midfield to act as creator. It’s a ploy often adopted for PSG. But it’s effective in the realm of the French first division because there’s a 50 million euro striker named Cavani to profit from his playmaking. Marcus Berg plies his trade at Panathinaikos and is a willing accomplice. But a wonder striker he is not.
It wasn’t unmerited when Ireland took the lead two minutes into the second-half. Wes Hoolahan connected sweetly with McCarthy’s cross from the right. The setback sparked somnolent Sweden.
“It was like we released the hand break after Ireland scored,” said Berg. “We started to attack down the wings like we should have been doing from the start of the match. They didn’t give us much space in the beginning.”
Urgency entered the Swedish ranks and they pushed forward seeking parity. “There were a lot of crosses from the wings and more movement in the penalty area,” added Berg who was substituted in the 58th minute for John Guidetti. Ibrahimovic soon went close to equalising and sensing a shift, Ireland coach Martin O’Neill replaced the chunky physicality of Jon Walters for the wispy wing play of James McClean. But Sweden struck via the hapless Clark.
The Sweden players mobbed Ibrahimovic as if he had scored. But since he’s their captain, best player and the country’s most famous export since ABBA, it was wise to make him the centre of celebrations.
Sweden take on Group E leaders Italy on Friday in Toulouse while Ireland face Belgium in Bordeaux on Saturday. Ibrahimovic will know tricks of a couple of the characters in the Italy side, most notably Gigi Buffon, his former Juventus team mate.
There’s even more intimacy in the Bordeaux showdown. Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy play at Everton with Romelu Lukaku who is expected to lead the Belgium forward line. In both clashes, familiarity is likely to breed respect.