Can Ireland steal a win in the opening game of Group E?

Republic of Ireland start their Euro 2016 campaign against Sweden, who they've never beaten in competitive fixtures

Can Ireland steal a win in the opening game of Group E?
Can Ireland steal a win in the opening game of Group E?

The Republic of Ireland begin their Euro 2016 campaign against Sweden at the Stade de France today.

It is already being touted as a must win game for the Irish, with Sweden arguably being the weakest of the other three teams in Group E and one win could be enough to see a team progress as one of the best four third placers.

Hoping to start well

Both teams progressed through the play-offs after finishing third in their respective groups, Ireland defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-1 over two legs, whilst Sweden had to hang on to a late Danish resurgence to win 4-3 on aggregate.

Both teams have had mixed fortunes in their warm-up games, Ireland drew their first with unqualified Netherlands 1-1, but lost to Belarus 2-1 in Cork at the end of May. Whereas the Swedes were held to a 0-0 draw by Slovenia but then ran riot over Group B’s Wales, winning 3-0.

Up against outside favourites Belgium and Euro 2012 finalists Italy in Group E, it’s imperative both sides look to be victorious in their first game with more challenging tests to come. Winning your first fixture can afford a team to only need to be unbeaten in their remaining fixtures.

Whereas losing would leave either Ireland or Sweden needing victories in at least one of their last two games to get through.

Shane Long the danger man

Ireland will be hoping to get the best out of Southampton striker Shane Long going forward.

Long will be the Irish' threat against the Swedes this evening / Irish Independent
Long will be the Irish' threat against the Swedes this evening / Irish Independent

The 29-year-old scored 13 goals in 32 games for the Saints this season and his tireless endeavour and work rate will be what Ireland need to give Swedish defenders no time to rest whilst in possession.

His pace on the break is also another positive he brings to Ireland, who will probably not dominate the possession tomorrow against Sweden, hoping to expose them on counter-attacks.

Long’s goal against Germany in qualifying from a long ball forward over the top is a tactic Ireland may try to employ to get the most out of the former under-18s Hurling star.

Beware of Zlatan

Sweden’s main man is of course former-PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is looking for a new club during the tournament.

The 34-year-old striker was second top scorer in qualifying with 11 goals and without him Sweden are a much worse off side.

They will look to get the ball to him by any means necessary with John Guidetti presumably beside him.

Sweden will pin their hopes on Ibrahimovic / Sky Sports
Sweden will pin their hopes on Ibrahimovic / Sky Sports

Ibrahimovic’s excellent finishing from inside and outside the box makes him a danger almost anywhere in the Ireland half and they need to keep him quiet if they’re to have any hopes of winning the game.

Problem is, Ireland’s back four is arguably it’s weakest area with the first choice partnership being Sunderland’s 35-year-old John O’Shea and Derby County’s Richard Keogh.

Not a good record

Ireland has never beaten Sweden in a competitive fixture, drawing twice and losing four times, their most recent meeting was a 2-1 win for the Swedes in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying in September 2013.

The Stade de France was also the stage of one of the most controversial moments of Irish footballing history, the 1-1 draw with France in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying play-offs.

France’s Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball in the build-up to William Gallas’ extra time winner but the officials missed the handball and the goal was allowed to stand, knocking Ireland out 2-1 on aggregate with calls for a replay dismissed by FIFA.