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Friday 30 September 2016

Independent.ie writers pick their starting XI for Ireland's Euro 2016 opener v Sweden

Published 30/03/2016 | 15:46

With another warm-up game done with, we are starting to get a clearer picture of the 23-man squad that Martin O'Neill will bring to France for this summer's European Championship.

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While the games against Switzerland and Slovakia over the last few days weren't played at full intensity, some players - like Blackburn defender Shane Duffy - were certainly able to increase their chances of playing at Euro 2016.

With just two games left before Ireland play their first fixture in France, we thought now would be a good time to take stock and look at possible team that O'Neill might pick to face Sweden.

Here's what the Independent.ie writers came up with:

Tom Rooney: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie, James McCarthy, Eunan O’Kane, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Jon Walters, Shane Long. (4-4-1-1)

There are probably a couple of odd looking choices in my side, but I believe they are all justified. Firstly, I would continue with the diamond midfield used against Slovakia last night and, of course, in the famous win over Germany in October.

As evidenced by the turgid display in beating Switzerland, 4-4-2 is not an appropriate system for the current Irish crop.

In goal, Darren Randolph thoroughly deserves his spot, though it was a shame to see Rob Elliot going down injured at the Aviva. Seamus Coleman and John O’Shea are automatic choices in any Irish defence at this stage.

With the Sweden game in mind, the size and power of Shane Duffy may well combat Ibrahimović and, in turn, pretty much neutralise the Swedes. My decision to promote Cyrus Christie to starting left full is based on freeing up Robbie Brady and the width the Derby man can provide in such a narrow system.

McCarthy needs to anchor the midfield behind technical players like Brady and O’Kane that keep the ball and use it constructively. At the tip of the diamond, Hoolahan can pull the strings, with Walters pressing, running and generally wreaking havoc in behind Long, who has earned the mantle of Ireland’s first choice striker. 

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Will Slattery: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Jon Walters, Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)

This team would line up in the in-vogue 4-2-3-1 formation, with Whelan/McCarthy playing in their usual holding roles with an attacking trio of Brady (left), Hoolahan (centre) and Walters (right) behind Long.

I thought hard about keeping Richard Keogh in the heart of the defence but he'll have to settle for a place in the squad. Marc Wilson is battling for fitness at the moment but his return would free up Brady to move further forward, while also covering up his defensive limitations.

James McClean is unlucky to miss out but the midfielder always thrives off the bench in the last 20 minutes.

The Whelan/McCarthy axis isn't particularly strong at passing through an opposition midfield but they are adept at breaking up attacks.

Hoolahan, Walters and Long should be no-brainers after how they propelled Ireland to Euro 2016 but knowing Martin O'Neill, he will surprise us in some way with his first team selection in France.

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Ger Keville:  Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy; Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean; Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)

As has been the case for some time now, our centre-half partnership and the left-full position are the main talking points.

Richard Keogh can feel hard done-by not to get the nod following his strong performances towards the end of the qualifying campaign. John O’Shea’s leadership will be a welcome asset in France and Ciaran Clark has proved himself a solid part of Martin O’Neill’s team.

Robbie Brady certainly still has defensive frailties that need to be ironed out and there is a debate as to whether he should start at left-full or left side of midfield.

For me, James McClean must play so Brady will slot in at left back and the back four looks a lot more comfortable with O’Shea there to talk him through those defensive lapses in concentration.

The front six pick themselves with Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy offering some defensive stability and McClean, Walters and Hoolahan providing the industry for the brilliant and energetic Shane Long up front.

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Cormac Byrne: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy; Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean; Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)

There is an emphasis on solidity in my XI. A defeat to the Swedes would be catastrophic to our chances and this is a team selected to secure a result.

I've resisted the temptation to push Brady further forward despite the fact that the Swedes don't pose a potent threat on the flanks. He's not a natural defender but he's the best left-back at our disposal.

There is plenty of pace in the side with both full-backs, McClean and Long up front. The much-maligned Glenn Whelan should provide a good foil for James McCarthy in their holding midfield role and the creative presence of Wes Hoolahan will be vital for our chances of at least holding parity in the possession stakes.

Darren Randolph has been impressive between the sticks when called upon and it's crucial that he stays fit for the summer. With Rob Elliot injured, David Forde out of favour and Shay Given susceptible at set-piece time, the Hammers custodian has become one of our most important squad members.

I've chosen Ciaran Clark to partner John O'Shea at the back. His no-nonsense style is something we'll need and he gets the nod in front of blooper-prone Richard Keogh and the inexperienced Shane Duffy.

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