Thursday 23 February 2017

Is this the starting XI Martin O'Neill will select for Ireland's opening clash against Sweden?

Tom Rooney

Will these three start against Sweden on June 13?
Will these three start against Sweden on June 13?

The warm up games have been banked, the squad selected- albeit belatedly- and just 12 days remain before Ireland meet Sweden in their opening game of the European Championships, but what XI will Martin O’Neill send out to take on Ibrahimović and co?

Last night’s 2-1 loss to Belarus was of little significance and, perhaps, needn’t have gone ahead at all. However, events at Turner’s Cross did clearly convey that certain individuals in the Irish set up are in need of getting their act together.

O’Neill, as was always going to be the case, didn’t garner universal approval for the 23-squad he deemed the best at his disposal for a genuine assault on the enlarged European Championships.

During his tenure, the Derryman has consistently shown what an eccentric selector he is, and the criteria for inclusion in his plans are often unclear.

With that in mind, it’s better to forge ahead and look to the first of what will unquestionably be three tough group ties. That being said, the Swedes appear infinitely more vulnerable than Belgium or Italy.

Banking a victory over Sweden in Pairs would make the prospect of facing a Belgium outfit replete with talent five days later considerably more palatable.

We’ve decided not to pre-empt what formation O’Neill will opt for against the Scandinavians, but this is who we think will line out a week from next Monday.

Darren Randolph

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West Ham keeper hasn’t looked back since replacing an injured Shay Given during the 1-0 victory over Germany in qualification. Second choice to Adrian at club level, though featured throughout the Hammers’ run to the FA cup quarter final, and clearly has a strong rapport with the Irish rear guard.

Seamus Coleman

An automatic choice under O’Neill - and with good reason. The Everton full back is a dynamic presence going forward and offers the side real width when the midfield diamond is opted for. The scene is set for the Donegal man to shine on one of the biggest stages of all.

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John O’Shea

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The Waterford native is the de facto captain and a genuine, influential leader within the group. O’Shea has seen it all at this stage of his storied career and will not be overawed by the big occasion. When Ireland need cooler heads to prevail, the Sunderland stalwart will be pivotal.

Shane Duffy

A bit of a bolter it must be said. The Blackburn centre half performed more than admirably against Switzerland in March and did not dirty his bib in any way when the Dutch came to town last Friday. A formidable physical specimen, if anyone in the Irish set up can make life unbearable for Zlatan, it’s the 24-year-old from Derry.

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Robbie Brady

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A credible argument can be made that Ireland would be better served with Brady deployed in midfield, given the dearth of genuine nous in that area. However, he has matured into a fine full back, while his imperious set piece delivery is arguably Ireland’s greatest goal threat.

Glenn Whelan

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A polarizing figure among the masses he might be, but Whelan is near-certain to anchor the Ireland midfield. The Dubliner has consistently earned the praise of the managers he’s played under, so perhaps they know something we don’t.

James McCarthy

Has only just returned to training after overcoming a hamstring injury but, if fit, the Everton player will start. McCarthy did not enjoy his best season at club level but remains a cut above most of the midfields options.

Only O’Neill seems to think that the Glaswegian is not at his best sitting just in front of the back four so he’s likely to play in a central role where, truth be told, the 25-year-old has rarely thrived.

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Jeff Hendrick

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Made his mark during qualification and could now consider himself a fixture in the group. Full of energy and industry, the Derby man is not without flaw. Hendrick’s profligacy in possession should be a concern and Eunan O’Kane still feels like a safer bet.

Jon Walters

The heart, soul and balls of this side. Time and again Walters came through when needed most over the last two years. The Stoke attacker possesses an indefatigable work-rate, plenty of brawn and has proven a more than competent finisher. Only O’Neill knows what position he’ll occupy.

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Wes Hoolahan

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After years in the international wilderness, Hoolahan has been embraced - perhaps a little sporadically- by O’Neill and Roy Keane. A player of real craft and nous, with the most refined football brain in the squad.

O’Neill has said that set-pieces cannot be Ireland’s only goal source and, if that’s the case, he must select the Norwich playmaker.

Shane Long

Ireland’s in form player by an immeasurable distance. Long sparkled for Southampton in the second half of the season and finished the campaign with a career best 15 league goals, and also found the net against Holland last week. A potent blend of speed, power, grit and a constant source of strife for defenders, Long will spearhead the attack at the peak of his powers.

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