Steven Reid: No sign of world-class talent we so desperately require
THE World Cup dream is all but dead and the Giovanni Trapattoni era appears to be nearing its end. It is time for that change, time for a more youthful manager who will come in with new ideas and a fresh start.
But no matter who that manager is, there is one major problem that he will face, and it is a problem that he himself will be unable to fix. Who is going to step forth as the world-class player in green, because last night there was only one man operating at that level.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic created a series of chances for his team and they managed to take enough of them to put themselves in pole position to reach the play-offs.
Robbie Keane made the most of his half-chance, he did brilliantly to score and showed that he is still our most dangerous player. But Andreas Isaksson did not have a save to make otherwise. There was no creativity.
Where is the next Robbie Keane, the next Damien Duff, the next Richard Dunne? I don't see them and for that reason I would fear for the future.
The way the boys started was so encouraging, you could only see one winner. But when Ibrahimovic spotted Seb Larsson at the back post the game changed. They missed that chance, but it brought Sweden into the game.
After that, the only chance Ireland created was when Shane Long broke through and should have squared the ball to Robbie and didn't. That was a missed opportunity.
For half an hour, it was the best I have seen us play in a long time. We kept the ball, showed intensity. We got a warning when Larsson headed wide and didn't heed it.
Once we went behind we never looked like scoring. The frustrating thing is that the players will feel that if they could have lifted their games by five or 10pc, they could have won this match.
We can go on about the way the team plays, Trapattoni's style, but we have lacked a cutting edge, creativity. Robbie did well for his goal but got no decent delivery after. James McClean was energetic, but delivered no killer balls.
Shane had a great chance but didn't look up. Our over-reliance on Robbie told and we didn't create anything for him. He was feeding off scraps.
I feel a little for James McCarthy because in Trapattoni's system the midfielders are sitters. With more license to roam I believe he can get forward and have an impact, but in that rigid 4-4-2 he has to sit in and shield. He could give more.
The changes the manager made had no impact. We have seen it time and time again with Trapattoni, opting for his tried and trusted players. He rarely takes a gamble and brings on a Wes Hoolahan or a Robbie Brady.
Brady has started the season so well, he is clearly Hull's most creative player. There is a reluctance to take a gamble.
We had to go and win the game and we didn't show the ambition.
It all started so well. Time and time again people have questioned Robbie and he invariably proves his doubters wrong.
There is nobody else in Ireland's squad who would have been able to score that goal. He used all of the experience gained in over a decade of top-level football to anticipate Mikael Lustig's mistake and beat Isaksson to the ball and, when he was denied the first time, he kept his cool with a brilliant finish.
All through his career, when I played with him at the World Cup and against all levels of opposition, Robbie has delivered in a green jersey and I think he will continue to do so for some time to come.
He needs more support, but at the time of the goal Ireland were really impressive and it all looked so bright.
So often under Trapattoni, the boys in green have opened cagily, inviting their opponents on to them.
Last night they went for the Swedes, starting with a high tempo and plenty of intensity as they made life uncomfortable in midfield and the back four.
But the Larsson chance seemed to lift Sweden out of their slumber and the equalising goal soon followed. Ireland sat back and lost the early momentum and then Johan Elmander did brilliantly to get across Dunne and send a stunning header into the net.
It was all downhill from there as Anders Svensson punished slack defending and Ireland never looked like equalising.
What a disappointing way to limp out of contention. It summed up the campaign.