Ireland produced an uplifting performance to keep their World Cup dream alive with a creditable goalless draw in Sweden last night.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s men successfully shackled Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company at Stockholm’s Friends Arena to claim a valuable point in their Group C qualifying campaign.
Trapattoni’s position has been under scrutiny since the dismal showing at Euro 2012 – not to mention the 6-1 thrashing by Germany last autumn – but Ireland have still not lost an away qualifying fixture under the veteran Italian.
For 20 minutes Ireland were outstanding in the Swedish capital, continually worrying a side that drew 4-4 with Germany in October, and thereafter held firm.
Sweden did create the better chances and Ireland goalkeeper David Forde made three fine saves – including one to deny Rasmus Elm as last-gasp winner – but the visitors thoroughly deserved their draw.
They may have lost third place in the group to their next opponents Austria, who thrashed the Faroe Islands 6-0, but they can now look forward to Tuesday’s game in Dublin with confidence.
Trapattoni said: “I think this 90 minutes is a good result. Sweden have not forgotten how to score four goals, as they did against Germany.
“We started well and in the first minutes we had a great opportunity with Shane Long. I don’t know if Sweden were afraid about us but we were not afraid of them. For us it was very important not to concede a goal, or concede a defeat. Now we have played nine games without losing away.”
The temperature in Stockholm had plummeted to minus seven degrees by kick-off, but it did not matter as the stadium’s retractable roof was closed.
Ireland settled quickly as Long fired over after a strong run while captain Robbie Keane also miskicked in front of goal early on.
Jon Walters got into a good position but could not direct a header goalwards while James McClean was a threat out wide.
Forde, making his first competitive start, ensured Ireland’s hard work was not wasted by keeping out a fine Tobias Hysen volley and an awkwardly bouncing Kim Kallstrom free-kick.
Ibrahimovic’s best chance was deflected wide by Seamus Coleman while Sebastian Larsson also sliced a good chance wide for the frustrated hosts.
Elm almost had the final say but Forde wrapped up a satisfactory night with a fine reflex stop.
Keane said: “If Sweden weren’t great it is because we stopped them from playing. It is as simple as that.
“We were hunting in packs and stopping them from playing. Of course we would have wanted three points but with the way we stopped them, nobody really had too many chances to score. I think, overall, we were the better team.”
One area of concern for Ireland was the loss of Glenn Whelan with an ankle injury before the game, although James McCarthy impressed in his place.
The confidence of Hull winger Robbie Brady may also have taken a knock after he was left out in favour of Walters.