Veteran Anders Svensson left the Republic of Ireland's World Cup hopes in
tatters as he marked his record-equalling 143rd appearance for Sweden with a
The 37-year-old midfielder, who matched Thomas Ravelli's leading caps total for
their country at the Aviva Stadium, fired home from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's
slide-rule 57th-minute pass to help the Swedes complete a stirring comeback in
front of a packed house.
It had started so well for Ireland when Robbie Keane blasted them ahead with 22
minutes gone, the 60th goal of his senior international career.
But with Ibrahimovic casting himself in the role of provider rather than
executioner, the home side wilted as first victory, then the minimum requirement
of a draw slipped from their grasp.
Johan Elmander levelled after 33 minutes with a bullet header to pave the way
for Svensson to finish the job and arguably, Ireland's hopes of making it to
Brazil next summer.
Giovanni Trapattoni's men will head for Austria on Tuesday night knowing
nothing short of victory will give them any chance of wrestling back a chance of
snatching second place in Group C, and even them they might have to do something
special away to runaway leaders Germany to achieve it.
Keane had admitted in the run up to the game that the double-header against the
Swedes and the Austrians would make or break Ireland's campaign, and he and his
team-mates emerged from the tunnel in determined mood.
For the best part of half an hour, excepting a couple of minor scares, they
largely held sway and looked the more likely to break the deadlock.
Shane Long, challenged by assistant manager Marco Tardelli during the week to
improve his finishing, might have provided the perfect riposte within a minute
of the kick-off only for full-back Martin Olsson to make a brave block after
defender Richard Dunne had headed down Seamus Coleman's free-kick for the
Glenn Whelan thumped a shot from distance into Swedish keeper Andreas
Isaksson's midriff after slicing an earlier effort wide, and Jon Walters drove
past the post in an encouraging start by the home side.
Ibrahimovic had in the meantime wasted two free-kicks, sending both into the
defensive wall, but Marc Wilson had to redeem himself after allowing a
16th-minute cross to drop over his head to the Paris St Germain frontman by
getting in a good block to repel the ensuing shot.
Ireland were almost undone from the resulting corner when Sebastian Larsson's
set-piece was helped on to Ibrahimovic beyond the far post, but he could not
react quickly enough and stabbed his effort into the side-netting.
But Trapattoni's men forced their way in front with 22 minutes gone, and the
identity of the scorer came as little surprise.
James McClean had already served warning by dropping a cross on to Isaksson's
bar with the goalkeeper beaten, but the visitors failed to take heed.
Full-back Mikael Lusting's careless header allowed skipper Keane to race in on
goal and toe-poke the ball past the advancing keeper, only for it to come back
off the foot of the post.
Sweden appeared to have got away with it as Mikael Antonsson and Lustig pounced
on the rebound, but between them, they could only serve it up for the Ireland
skipper once again and he gleefully lashed it into the roof of the net.
However, the lead lasted just 11 minutes despite a glaring miss by Larsson, who
headed wide from Ibrahimovic's cross with the goal at his mercy.
Elmander was far more deadly when he opportunity arrived, getting ahead of
33-year-old Dunne, playing his first competitive game for the Republic for more
than a year, to power Lustig's cross home.
In an instant, the momentum of the game had shifted and it was the home side
which was perhaps most grateful to hear the half-time whistle.
The two sides returned after break equally aware of the consequences of both
victory and defeat, and it was the Swedes who were first to threaten when
Elmander met Olsson's left-wing cross at the near post, but flicked just wide
under pressure from Dunne.
McClean forced Isaksson into an uncomfortable 51st-minute save after Long and
Walters had combined well on the edge of the penalty area, but it was opposite
number David Forde who found himself in the thick of the action as Sweden made
The 33-year-old raced from his line to deny Larsson after he had run on to
Ibrahimovic's exquisite through-ball, but was powerless when the striker
repeated the dose to set Svensson free, and his finish was assured.
Trapattoni's response was muted - he sent on Simon Cox and then debutant
Anthony Pilkington, but to little avail as Sweden saw out time comfortably.