On Monday, Group E kicks off, alongside these two countries Belgium and Italy make up the ‘group of death.’ One bad result could easily see you eliminated and in this first game Republic of Ireland and Sweden will be keen to avoid any slip ups. This game takes on extra significance as the upcoming opponents for these two mean that whoever fails to win stands very little chance of advancing to the next round. Even the winner will find it tough but this year of all years never rule anything out.
The Republic of Ireland head into the game dogged with fitness concerns, three players face a race against time to be fit for the game. Neither Robbie Brady, Jonathon Walters or top scorer Robbie Keane have trained fully with the rest of the squad since the team arrived in France on Wednesday (as of Friday), with Brady suffering a back spasm and Keane and Walters nursing calf problems. The only good news the Republic have right now is that Everton midfielder James McCarthy, who was suffering from a groin and hamstring problem has declared himself fit for the match. Ireland have won only two of their last seven matches and last time out they suffered an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at home to Belarus. They are clearly the underdogs in this group, having finished third in their group and requiring a play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina to qualify.
The only injury concern for Sweden is Albin Ekdal, the 23-year old has been included in the squad despite falling in a night club and opening up a cut in his back that required stitches. He is currently rated as unlikely to make this game. As for their form, it is exactly the same as Ireland’s, two wins in their last seven, however, they go into the game with better form as their final warm-up match was a 3-0 win over Wales. The most important part of Sweden’s warm-up has been completed successfully, making sure Zlatan Ibrahimovic stays fit.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, O’Shea, Brady, Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan, Long
There is a fierce battle for the no.1 jersey in the Ireland camp between Darren Randolph, Keiren Westwood and Shay Given. It is unclear as yet who Martin O’Neill will pick but it is widely speculated that West Ham’s Randolph will get the nod. The Republic will look to Jonathon Walters to provide their goal threat, Walters perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves at Stoke. He has been in good form of late for his country, he was the country’s top scorer in qualifying with 5 goals, including the crucial two in the 2-0 win over Bosnia that booked Ireland’s place in France. At the back, they are pinning their hopes on vice-captain John O’Shea. At 35 years old, the vastly experienced centre-half has enjoyed a successful 15-year career in the Premier League and has collected 111 Irish caps. With the Irish needing to do a lot of defending in this group, it is time for his experience to come to the fore.
Sweden: Isaksson, Lustig, Lindelöf, Granqvist, Olsson, Durmaz, Källström, Hiljemark, Forsberg, Berg, Ibrahimović
Sweden tend to play either a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 with the bulk of their attacking threat coming from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is their undoubted star and his involvement was instrumental in Sweden’s qualification. He scored 11 goals in qualifying, a tally only bettered by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (13). Like the Republic, Sweden required a playoff to make the tournament, they ran out 4-3 winners over Denmark courtesy of 3 goals across the two legs from Ibrahimovic, with the winner being a scintillating free-kick right into Kasper Schmeichel’s top corner. He is currently out of contract and what better platform to impress Jose Mourinho or other potential suitors. Principal supplier to Ibrahimovic will be 24-year-old winger Emil Forsberg. He has impressed this season, helping his side Reb Bull Leipzig reach the German Bundesliga for the first time in their history. Sweden will hope he can use his pace and crossing ability to even better effect for them this summer.
The Republic of Ireland struggled at Euro 2012, they were eliminated with no points and only one goal to their name. I predict a similar fate for them this time around as well. With such a tough group and the level of players they have in their squad, Ireland will find it hard to compete. I predict Sweden completing a comfortable 2-0 win in this one.
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Republic of Ireland vs Sweden, Live on BBC 1, coverage starts from 4:30pm, Kick-off at 5:00pm GMT at the Stade de France