Cagey affair in store as Group E underdogs face off

The partnership of Emil Forsberg (front) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be vital for a Sweden side looking to start their campaign with victory over Ireland. A win for either team would go a long way to boosting their prospects of reaching the last 16 f
The partnership of Emil Forsberg (front) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be vital for a Sweden side looking to start their campaign with victory over Ireland. A win for either team would go a long way to boosting their prospects of reaching the last 16 from a difficult group headlined by Italy and Belgium.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GROUP E

Ireland v Sweden

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PARIS • Ireland must somehow silence superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they open their campaign against Sweden at the Stade de France today.

In a Group E also containing Italy and much-fancied Belgium, a defeat for either side could be a decisive blow to their prospects of reaching the last 16.

At 34, Manchester United target Ibrahimovic is probably gracing a major international tournament for the last time after scoring 11 times during qualifying for Erik Hamren's men.

  • 50

  • Number of goals Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Paris Saint-Germain in 2015-16.

"He's a good player but you can't single him out because they have others who can score goals," reasoned Ireland's veteran goalkeeper Shay Given. "Still he's a fantastic player, one of the best centre-forwards in the world, but we've got to keep him quiet and the rest of them quiet as well."

The player Ireland are most concerned about, however, is 24-year-old winger Emil Forsberg, who dovetails beautifully with Ibrahimovic and impressed coach Martin O'Neill when he saw Sweden sweep Wales aside in a friendly.

"He (Forsberg) was excellent," O'Neill said. "Ibrahimovic is very strong. The players feel they can play it in to him. He can deal with it, make things happen for them as well. He can slide and turn, slide players through with little passes."

The Ireland manager is relying on Everton's James McCarthy to be at his athletic best in making sure Ibrahimovic does not dominate.

Sweden will be worried that Ireland now have their own potential match-winner in Southampton's Shane Long.

The two Sweden centre-halves, FC Copenhagen's Erik Johansson, and Andreas Granqvist of Russian side Krasnodar, are short on pace, so Sweden will probably look to sit deep and try to hit Ireland on the counter-attack.

The Irish may not be much more adventurous, with a cagey match in store until somebody makes something happen.

"Ireland and ourselves are the underdogs in our group, and we're quite close to one another in the rankings. With regard to who is going to win or lose, it's quite open," Hamren said. Sweden are 35th and Ireland 33rd in the Fifa rankings.

For Ireland to prevail, O'Neill must use his ability to get the best out of players like forward Jon Walters, who is expected to be fit after a bout of tendinitis in his knee, defender John O'Shea and even ageing striker Robbie Keane.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Cagey affair in store as Group E underdogs face off'. Print Edition | Subscribe