Keane: We showed great heart against the Swedes
Published 23/03/2013 | 16:44
Captain Robbie Keane believes the Republic of Ireland can take huge encouragement from their goalless World Cup qualifying draw in Sweden.
The Irish successfully shackled Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company at Stockholm's Friends Arena to claim a valuable point in their Group C campaign.
They slipped to fourth in the standings, but are just a point behind the second-placed Swedes and can head into Tuesday's clash against the team in third, Austria, in Dublin with confidence.
Keane said: "We can take a lot of credit from this game.
"We had an inexperienced team compared to Sweden, who had senior players who have been around a long time.
"We have got a lot of younger players coming through and I think that showed with the energy we had from start to finish. We showed a lot of heart and I am delighted with that.
"I felt quite comfortable. Usually you are a bit nervous but I felt comfortable.
"They certainly didn't deserve to get a goal because overall I felt we were the better team."
Ireland produced a performance that did their manager Giovanni Trapattoni much credit.
The veteran Italian's position has been under scrutiny since last summer's failure at Euro 2012 and he was almost axed after the 6-1 thrashing by Germany last autumn.
But Ireland have still not lost an away qualifying fixture since the 74-year-old took charge five years ago and his latest gameplan worked well.
He was forced into a late rethink by injury to midfielder Glenn Whelan but James McCarthy - a controversial omission from the side named on the eve of the game - excelled in his place, giving the team drive.
The wide men, particularly James McClean and, from deep, Seamus Coleman, offered threat while the much-maligned Paul Green brought the defensive balance required.
Record goalscorer Keane played a more withdrawn role behind strike partner Shane Long but, despite a lack of clear-cut chances, the shape worked well.
Keane was replaced in the hole by Wes Hoolahan 14 minutes from time but the skipper had no issue with that.
The 32-year-old, who is now just two short of equalling Shay Given's record 125 caps, said: "It is a squad game. I did a lot of running.
"That is why you have a squad, to keep it fresh.
"We made three changes. With the energy we showed and all the running around we did, it was only right we did change it.
"There is no way we would have gone 90 minutes doing that amount of running.
"James McCarthy was great. I thought he was the one pushing on, running up against them. He stopped them from playing.
"You can't praise our midfielders enough. We addressed before the game how to play with the extra man, with me coming back with James and Greeny, and how to make it difficult for them.
"We certainly did that."
Sweden struggled to cope with Ireland's exuberance in the opening 20 minutes.
The visitors created some good chances but Keane miskicked in front of goal, Jon Walters failed to direct a header goalwards and Long blazed over from the edge of the box.
Sweden had the better opportunities after that but David Forde, making his first competitive start, saved brilliantly from a Tobias Hysen volley and an awkwardly bouncing Kim Kallstrom free-kick which Andreas Granqvist may have touched.
The hosts also went close late on as Sebastian Larsson sliced wide and Forde produced a fine reflex stop to deny Rasmus Elm in the last minute.
Keane said: "It was just one of those things. Whoever got the first goal was probably going to win the game but it wasn't to be for us."
The draw allowed Germany, who defeated Kazakhstan, to move five points clear at the top of the group.
It now looks increasingly like Ireland are involved in a three-way battle with Sweden and Austria for second spot and a play-off berth in the race for places at Brazil 2014.
Keane said: "I don't think we can focus too much on Germany. It is clear they are going to run away with the group.
"We are playing home against Austria now. There is very little between us, Sweden and Austria.
"It is vitally important we get the three points but it might be a different approach from last night."