Wednesday 24 January 2018

Ibrahimovic plays key role as Sweden crush Wales

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

John Fallon

Sweden gave the watching Martin O'Neill plenty to chew on yesterday as they stormed to a 3-0 victory over Wales in their final warm-up game ahead of next Monday's Euro 2016 opener against Ireland.

Seamus McDonagh and Steve Guppy could have reported on plenty of Swedish flaws to their boss from scouting last week's insipid stalemate against Slovenia, yet this spying mission provided a real insight to what can be expected in Paris.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's influence will account primarily for the disparity in assessments when O'Neill briefs his players on their threat this week.

Wales failed dismally in their attempts to deny the Swedish lynchpin room to drop deep and dictate the tempo.

Glenn Whelan's job specification on Monday could entail acting as a veritable third centre-back to fill the chasm between Ireland's defence and midfield.

"We can take confidence from this win over Wales but there is still much work to do," said Zlatan afterwards, ominously for Ireland. "We can play much better at the Euros."

Ibrahimovic showed the damage he can cause five minutes before the break by bursting down the left and squaring for the onrushing Forsberg to drive a low shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner for the opener.

The party atmosphere within the Friends Arena rose another notch 12 minutes into the second half when Mikael Lustig peeled off his marker from a corner to beat substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward from close range.

Gareth Bale entered the fray shortly afterwards to try make his influence count for Wales, but the Swedish defence held firm, restricting the Real Madrid star to a couple of half-chances from distance.

All the clinical finishing on the day fell to Sweden, who plundered a third through John Guidetti with three minutes left. The Celta Vigo man broke his international duck at the ninth attempt by brushing off a challenge from Ashley Williams and slotting the ball past Ward.

Former Manchester City and Celtic striker Guidetti hopes yesterday's goal convinces Hamrén to give him the nod against Ireland.

"It was important to score my first goal because I know that Marcus Berg is ahead of me as Zlatan's strike partner," he said.

"Every one of us want to be on that pitch next week in Paris for the game against Ireland. We are full of confidence that we can perform well at the Euros and get out of the group."

On the injury front, Norwich defender Martin Olsson and Albin Ekdal returned to the fold but veteran goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, whose saves kept Slovenia scoreless on Monday, left the fray at the break and admitted feeling soreness in his back afterwards.

"That injury is annoying," said boss Erik Hamrén. "It's a hip injury which is hopefully not too serious."

Irish Independent

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