David Wilson reports from Tallaght Stadium
The Republic of Ireland began their efforts to qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 defeat at home to world number two side Sweden in front of a covid related 4,000 capacity crowd at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night.
A Louise Quinn own goal gave Sweden all three points after a battling Irish performance.
Disaster struck for the girls in green just minutes before the half-time whistle. Fridolina Rolfö sprung in behind the Irish midfield and drove at the defence, before finding the arcing run of Stina Blackstenius. The BK Hacken forward cut inside on her right and drove a shot which looked to be going harmlessly wide before it was inadvertently deflected by the heel of Louise Quinn leaving Courtney Brosnan with no chance.
It was harsh on Ireland who on the whole had defended well for the opening half.
Vera Pauw introduced Savannah McCarthy and Lucy Quinn for their first competitive starts, while skipper Katie McCabe captained the side for the 28th consecutive time.
Ireland adopted an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 formation and surrendered the whole of the Swedish half from their kickouts as centre forward Heather Payne took her starting position near the halfway line.
Sweden were silver medallists in Tokyo just two months ago and opened their qualifying campaign with wins against Georgia and Slovakia, scoring five goals in the process and securing two clean sheets.
Under their manager Peter Gerhardsson, they adopt a progressive style of football in a 4-3-3 formation with the excellent Blackstenius leading the line.
Ireland’s best passages of play came through North Carolina Courage’s Denise O'Sullivan. The Corkonian looked a calm and assured presence in a hectic midfield every time she was on the ball.
Overall though Ireland struggled against a good Swedish press, Ireland looked to play through it and in the 25th minute the excellent O’Sullivan found midfield partner Megan Connolly who in turn found the surging run of Payne who was well marshalled by Paris Saint-Germain defender Amanda Ilestedt.
The Swedes continued to own the ball without creating anything of note although they could have had a penalty after Jamie Finn looked to have fouled Blackstenius.
The Swedish was a thorn in the Irish side all night just ten minutes before the half she breezed by Louise Quinn before pulling the ball back to Rolfö who couldn’t control in a tight area.
Just five minutes later the number two side in the world had the lead anyway.
The second half began with a flurry of cautions, two for Sweden, Sofia Jakobsson and Lina Hurtig, and one for Ireland with Finn reprimanded for a high challenge.
Ireland pressed the ball a little better and earned a succession of free kicks and a corner but could not muster any decent chance.
Sweden continued to show their class. Everton’s record signing Hanna Bennison found herself in between the lines and slipped in Blackstenius who twisted and turned before powering a shot which Brosnan parried well in the 66th minute.
Ireland continued playing aimless long balls to an isolated Payne who found herself completely outnumbered, Pauw needed to change the system in order to try and get a foothold in the game.
Finally, Leanne Kiernan and Amber Barrett were introduced in the 74th minute in the hope of igniting the Irish attack. However, it was still a 5-4-1 formation as Barrett found herself out on the left with Aine O’Gorman going to right-wing-back and McCabe dropping back to left-wing-back as Finn went off. Kiernan was through the middle on her own.
Kiernan’s sheer determination paid off in the winning of a corner which McCabe whipped underneath the Swedish crossbar but that was well defended. With just six minutes left Kiernan nearly sprung the offside trap only to be denied by the flag.
A 1-0 loss is definitely not the end of the world for this Irish team but next week’s crucial qualifier away to Finland, who are the second seeds is a more realistic chance of gaining points. Sweden travel to Scotland for a friendly.
Republic of Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Jamie Finn (Amber Barrett 74), Louise Quinn, Lucy Quinn (Saoirse Noonan 93), Savannah McCarthy, Aine O’Gorman; Megan Connolly, Niamh Fahey, Denise O’Sullivan; Katie McCabe (c), Heather Payne (Leanne Kiernan 74)
Subs not used: Grace Moloney (GK) Eve Badana (GK), Claire Walsh, Harriet Scott, Eabha O’Mahony, Diane Caldwell, Niamh Farrelly, Ciara Grant, Aoibhinn Clancy, Roma McLaughlin
Booked: Jamie Finn (53)
Sweden: Heidvig Lindahl; Hanna Glas, Amanda Ilestedt, Magdalena Eriksson (C), Jonna Andersson; Hanna Bennison (Julia Zigiotti Olme 76), Fridolina Rolfo (Nilla Fischer 89) Filippa Angeldal; Sofia Jakobsson, Stina Blackstenius, Lina Hurtig (Olivia Schough 61)
Subs not used: Jennifer Falk (GK), Zecira Musovic (GK), Emma Kulberg, Madelen Janogy, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Rebecka Blomqvist, Filippa Curmack, Anna Anvegard, Elin Rubensson
Booked: Sofia Jakobsson (49), Lina Hurtig (52)
Referee: Deborah Anex (Switzerland)
Extratime.com player of the match: Stina Blackstenius (Sweden)