The Republic of Ireland were denied victory in their Group E opener after Ciaran Clark’s own goal 19 mintues from time salvaged a point for Sweden at Stade de France.
Ireland had been the more purposeful team in the first half and Hoolahan’s goal just after the break gave them a deserved lead. It was wonderfully constructed and taken, Seamus Coleman’s weaving run and deep cross being met perfectly on the half-volley by Wes Hoolahan.
Before that, it looked like the source of an Ireland goal would be fellow midfielder Jeff Hendrick. After forcing an early save from Andreas Isaksson, Hendrick beat the Sweden No1 from 25 metres after a nice give-and-go with Shane Long. However, his curling effort cannoned off the top of the bar. John O’Shea had already gone mighty close for Ireland, but couldn’t get anything on Clark’s flick.
A tame free-kick into the wall from talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović rather summed up Sweden’s first half. They sparked after Ireland scored, but a goal didn’t look likely until Ibrahimović got away down the left and crossed into a dangerous area, Clark inadvertedly doing the rest.
Man of the match
It wasn’t just the goal that caught the eye in Hoolahan’s performance. His clever passing and crowd-pleasing tricks galvanised both his team and the supporters until he was substituted late on.
Compared to UEFA EURO 2012, when they lost all three group games, Ireland looked like a much more ambitious side. Using two forwards clearly suits them and allows the likes of Hoolahan and Hendrick to play off them nicely. Plenty of positives to take into the next challenge.
Eric Hamrén’s men did not match the Irish for intensity for long periods but were jolted into action by Hoolahan’s strike and were much better for the remainder of the game. The coach will be hoping for more of the same from the off against Italy in what is a tough-looking Group E.