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Monday 5 December 2016

Jonathan Walters fit to start against Sweden

Published 13/06/2016 | 16:46

Joanthan Walters is fit for Republic of Ireland's opening match after battling an Achilles problem.
Joanthan Walters is fit for Republic of Ireland's opening match after battling an Achilles problem.

Jonathan Walters won his battle for fitness and was named in the starting line-up for the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 opener against Sweden.

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The Stoke striker, who has been battling an Achilles problem for the last week, was included in Martin O'Neill's team in which Ciaran Clark partnered skipper John O'Shea at the heart of the defence and Shane Long got the nod in attack.

Sweden boss Erik Hamren drafted Martin Olsson and Victor Lindelof into the team which saw off Denmark in the play-offs with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading his country into action once again.

The game kicked off amid a cacophony with both sets of fans roaring their team on, and it was Ireland who did the early pressing with Olsson heading clear a second-minute Robbie Brady free-kick.

However, the Swedes responded and when Seamus Coleman missed his kick as the ball bobbled around on the edge of the penalty area four minutes later, Olsson crossed for the dangerous Ibrahimovic, who could not climb high enough to head at goal.

Olsson was proving his side's most productive outlet, although he floated an eighth-minute cross wastefully straight to keeper Darren Randolph after skipping past right-back Coleman.

But it was Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson who was first to be called upon when he had to parry Jeff Hendrick's rising half-volley after the midfielder had run on to Walters' knock-down two minutes later.

Walters was left in a heap by Kim Kallstrom's untidy 16th-minute challenge and although the Lindelof cleared Brady's free-kick, Clark flick on the resulting corner and John O'Shea came agonisingly close to getting a touch in front of goal.

Ibrahimovic was enduring a quiet start to the game and wasted a good opportunity when he blasted a 21st-minute free-kick straight into the defensive wall.

HT: Republic of Ireland 0 Sweden 0

The Swedes had been on the back foot for much of the opening 25 minutes, but managed to mount a sustained period of pressure, aided in no small part by a scuffed clearance from Randolph which allowed frontmen Marcus Berg and Ibrahimovic to combine before Sebastian Larsson's poor touch killed the forward momentum.

But Ireland hit back and went close with 28 minutes gone when, after Coleman had got forward and crossed for the first time, Hendrick recycled the ball to Brady, who cut inside before thumping in a right-foot shot which glanced the roof of the net.

They went ever closer four minutes later when Clark picked out Brady down the left and Hendrick and Long combined before the midfielder crashed a dipping shot against the crossbar with Isaksson beaten.

Ibrahimovic was presented with a half-chance when Kallstrom and Lindelof helped a half-cleared corner back into the penalty area, but his stabbed effort flew high and wide.

Long was appealing in vain for a penalty with four minutes of the half remaining when he felt he got a nudge in the back from defender Andreas Granqvist as he dived to meet Brady's teasing cross, but Serbian referee Milorad Mazic was not interested.

INTRO: Jeff Hendrick was denied by the crossbar as the Republic of Ireland dominated the first half of their Euro 2016 opener against Sweden at the Stade de France.

The Derby midfielder rattled the woodwork 13 minutes before the break with keeper Andreas Isaksson beaten after Hendrick himself, John O'Shea and Robbie Brady had all gone close for Ireland.

Sweden offered little as an attacking force with star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic largely becalmed amid a boisterous atmosphere in Saint Denis.

Sweden returned knowing they would have to be significantly better if they were going to prevent Ireland from dictating the game, but they were almost caught again within a minute of the restart.

Hendrick ran on to a loose ball and fired towards Isaksson's bottom corner, and the goalkeeper needed two attempts to collect the ball.

But the keeper was powerless to resist two minutes later when Seamus Coleman cut inside from the right and picked out Wes Hoolahan, whose first-time shot as the ball reared up off the turf flew inside the far post with Isaksson stranded.

The goal was the signal for Sweden to throw off the shackles and they finally found their feet as Ibrahimovic only just failed to get to Emil Forsberg's 49th-minute cross in front of goal and Clark bundled the ball behind.

Clark enjoyed a stroke of good fortune from the resulting set-piece when his efforts to clear the ball almost went spectacularly wrong, and it took a fine save by Randolph to keep out his miscued hack.

The Swedes sensed an opportunity and it proved to be a difficult period for O'Neill's men as they retreated deep into their own half for the first time in the game, and it was a relieved Randolph who saw Ibrahimovic's snapshot fly just past his post on the hour after he met Olsson's cross on the full.

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