Ireland kicked off their Euro 2016 campaign with a draw that surely deserved so much better. Here are all the talking points, both positive and negative, from the opening day of Group E.
A point gained or two dropped?
Had we been offered a draw before the game, many would have taken it. This was, after all, a decent Sweden side (or so we thought) against an Irish team that besides the odd star, wouldn’t excite many (or so we thought). How could team so lacking in quality compete with the famous Zlatan?(And ten other lads)
In reality, we dominated the game for every minute bar ten. What was most surprising about how the game played out was how willing Sweden were to let it happen. They let Ireland control the game and only in the short period before their equaliser did they ever threaten Darren Randolph’s goal. They couldn’t even muster a shot on target. Our own Ciaran Clark tested his ‘keeper twice, beating him the second time of asking. So the answer is simple, it’s two points dropped and in a very vexing way.
How bad were Sweden?
To quote Eamon Dunphy, Sweden are “no great shakes”.
If their performance on Monday was anything to go by, they’ll do well to find another point from the group. The game passed them by until the opening goal shocked them into something resembling life. Had Jon Walters been fit, much of their attacking threat from the marauding Martin Olssen would have been negated. Had the more assured Shane Duffy been picked ahead of the at-times hapless Clark, the threat of Zlatan and with it, Sweden’s, would have been nullified altogether.
A new kind of Irish performance?
This wasn’t the kind of backs-to-the-wall, blood, sweat and tears performance fans were treated to in yesteryear There was no Paul McGraths or Richard Dunnes. There were no heart-in-mouth moments, no last ditch tackles, no sensational saves.
We didn’t need them.
It was a controlled, disciplined performance. It was a tactical masterclass from O’Neill, a man who has, at times, come under pressure for his lack of tactical awareness. His midfield of McCarthy and Hendrick dominated the game. McCarthy played an important role in the game plan, and, despite still not performing at the heights he’s capable of, had a good game.
But the real star of the show was the man beside him. Jeff Hendrick, playing in a slightly advanced role, put in a man of the match performance. He exploited the freedom being given to the full-backs with his passing game. His sublime shooting from distance almost broke the deadlock and was willing to work as hard as his midfield partner when necessary.
The width provided by Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman offered another dimension to the Irish attack and the movement of Shane Long to allow Wes Hoolahan to pick up space was just another element of O’Neill’s game plan. That final word is important. Plan. Gone are the days of relying on a hero or a mistake or a lucky break. We had a plan. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is progress.
Whelan, Houghton, McAteer, Long and now Hoolahan. We don’t score many but when we do…
What a moment https://t.co/qzUv7ckjzl
— alan (@AlanCallanan) June 14, 2016
We are extremely proud of Weso. Tweet us your favourite Wes Hoolahan moments from his time at Shels! WHAT A GOAL!! pic.twitter.com/J9hQG631zT
— Shelbourne FC (@shelsfc) June 14, 2016
The difficulty of that strike cannot be underestimated. Nor can the precision of the game plan which paved the way for just that.
Ireland continue their unstoppable journey towards European glory on Saturday, taking on Belgium