Defeat signals end of World Cup chances
THE Republic of Ireland's challenge for a place in the World Cup in Brazil next year hit the rocks at a packed Aviva Stadium last night.
It was a huge disappointment to lose 2-1 to a solid but unspectacular Swedish side, especially as the Irish took a first-half lead thanks to Robbie Keane. But this defeat effectively means curtains for manager Giovanni Trapattoni – even if the men in green gouge out a win in Austria on Tuesday night.
The FAI had stressed to the manager that retaining his job depended on the longevity of our World Cup run. Now that the death knell has sounded for our Brazil 2014 prospects, the Trapattoni era with the Republic is over.
We now we await only the coup de grace. Swedish skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as we feared, was the architect of the Irish downfall as a 'must win' home game turned into a nightmare defeat.
Ibrahimovic had been largely kept in check in the first half but early in the second half the languid but deadly maestro came to the fore and tormented the Irish with some killer passes.
He was involved in practically every threat posed by the visitors in the second 45 minutes and typically carved open the home defence.
Keane's classic striker's instinct came to the fore after 22 minutes when he broke into the Swedish penalty area, and nicked the ball away from goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.
His first attempt hit the upright but Keane followed up and blasted the ball into net.
The score was greeted by a thunderous roar from the massive home support, but their joy lasted only for 11 minutes as Johan Elmander broke through to head the equaliser.
Much of the focus early in the week was on £13m James McCarthy, who joined Everton from Wigan on transfer deadline day, but there were no fireworks from him.
James McClean was lively and brought a good save from Isaksson in the 50th minute as the home side once more pressed forward.
There was a moment of panic as David Forde dived at the feet of Seb Larsson in the Irish box after 56 minutes, but luckily the ref saw that Forde got his hands to the ball just before he sent Larsson tumbling. Ibrahimovic had put Larsson through on that occasion, having found his rhythm.
A minute later he replicated that move, and this time it came off perfectly, with Anders Svensson racing through to strike Sweden's second goal.
In typical fashion, the Irish showed character and defiance against the odds and made most of the running in the second half.
Trapattoni sent on Simon Cox for Jon Walters and later took off McClean to give Norwich's Anthony Pilkington a competitive debut with just 16 minutes to go.
There was always the chance of Sweden crumbling under the home side's pressure but it looked increasingly unlikely as the minutes ticked agonisingly away.