Seen as one of the toughest group stage matches to call, the Republic of Ireland host Sweden in Group E’s opener at the Stade de France on Monday evening.
The Irish will be desperate to improve on their disastrous showing at Euro 2012, when they lost every game, whilst Sweden will hope that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can drive them on in what is surely his final tournament.
Football journalist Miguel Delaney gives us the Irish view, whilst Sweden are previewed by 68 times capped Swedish international and former Liverpool centre-back Glenn Hysen.
Miguel Delaney on the Republic of Ireland: Despite a build-up punctuated by an initially concerning amount of injuries, Ireland are expected to have a full team going into their opening game, especially now Jon Walters has been declared fit. The Stoke City forward was the main worry coming into this game, having only returned to full training on Monday following a bout of tendinitis after returning from an operation, but assistant Roy Keane said on Saturday that he’s had a good week of work. “It’s not ideal that he’s missed the last week in training,” the former Irish captain said. “He’s done really well in most of the games he’s been involved."
Glenn Hysen on Sweden: Sweden manager Erik Hamrén has a full team to count on for the game against Ireland tomorrow. Most of the team is set but there are doubts about who’ll start in central midfield. Albin Ekdal, Kim Källström and Oscar Lewicki are fighting to get their place in the starting XI. In defence the experienced Andreas Granqvist will pair up with Sweden’s greatest talent in this tournament, Victor Nilsson Lindelöf who could be the revelation of the tournament. Up front, Marcus Berg is expected to start together with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Delaney: Ireland’s recent run of results must be put in the context of a difficult qualification group and awkward play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina but, as indicated by the very fact they’re in France, it’s fairly respectable.
Of the six competitive matches played since the start of the 2015-16 season, Martin O’Neill’s side have won four, drawn one and lost one. The defeat came away to Robert Lewandowski’s Poland but one of the victories was at home against world champions Germany. Form has continued along those solid lines in the warm-up friendlies, with Ireland beating Switzerland 1-0 and drawing with Slovakia (2-2) and Netherlands (1-1), before a second-string side involving many players not selected for France lost to Belarus in the final friendly.
Throughout all that, Ireland have looked exactly what they are: a team without stars or real top-class quality, but who are fiercely competitive with good cohesion and very hard to beat.
Hysen: Sweden beat Wales comfortably 3-0 at home in a very good display by Hamren’s men. A couple of days before that Sweden drew against Slovenia in a game where Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the bench for the full 90 minutes. The exhibition games have worked out well and now it remains to see if the form is permanent for tomorrow’s kick off.
Delaney: Who else but the player who got the brilliant winner against Germany, and is the only squad member really being monitored by the top band of Premier League clubs? Shane Long.
It’s remarkable to think that he wasn’t even assured of a place in O’Neill’s side as recently as September but, even if that never made sense, it’s also true that Long has taken his game to the next level over the past few months. He will be Ireland’s focal point, and his physical strength also ensures Ireland pose a very distinctive type of challenge.
Hysen: Not a hard guess. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the key man for Sweden, not only with his own ability to score and decide a game by himself but also because of his ability to make the most out of his teammates. Zlatan is the only reason teams could fear Sweden and an overall average side, Zlatan is the player that can and will make the difference for Sweden in this tournament.
Delaney: The fact Ireland are hard to beat but often lack the quality to really push home or decide a game means they have produced a very common result in competitive games, and particularly in competitions.
Of the 19 tournament matches the Irish have played before this, nine have ended in draws. It’s 3.10 here.
Hysen: Winner takes it all. Sweden needs to win this game to put themselves in a good situation before the games against Italy and Belgium. I believe the team will go out on the field to attack and score as soon as possible and Sweden to get over 1.5 goals at 2.80 is a bet I’ll try out.
Delaney: O’Neill has a decision to make regarding his centre-halves but, because of his physical presence, it seems he’ll go with Shane Duffy. The defender is dangerous from the regular Irish weapon of a set-piece, so is worth a punt at 22.00.
Hysen: Emil Forsberg has been in great form in the last couple of games and we believe the winger can score in the match to 6.10 anytime.
Delaney: Ireland 1-1 Sweden at 6.30
Hysen: Ireland 1-2 Sweden at 10.00