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Mar 22, 2013

Ireland high in spirit, low in style

'Positivity' was the buzz word repeatedly uttered as the Republic of Ireland kept their World Cup qualification hopes alive by picking up a crucial point. But it could have been more.

After the opening 15 minutes, it was clear that Sweden were not the cultured, confident team that they had been given credit for. Instead, they proved to be extremely limited and made Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland look like a far superior outfit.

This was meant to be the night when everything came crashing down for the boys in green. Trapattoni certainly did his best to aid that implosion by criticising James McCarthy in his pre-match press conference and dropping Robbie Brady after originally naming him in the team. Questioning the mentality of players is something that managers normally do of the opposition, not their own team. But that is exactly what the 74-year-old did with Brady, who was eventually left out in favour of Jon Walters, while McCarthy was welcomed back into the team following an injury to Glenn Whelan.

Sweden must have been quietly sniggering in the home dressing-room before kick-off. Although what the hosts at the Friends Arena did not expect was a spirited Irish performance, akin to the one against France in a World Cup play-off in 2009, led by players fighting for pride as much as an away point.

If the Irish players did adhere to Trapattoni's instructions to adopt a high-pressure game that stopped Sweden from providing service to star striker Zlatan Ibrahmiovic, they were certainly a little less informed of what to do when they actually had the ball.

For all of their positive play, Ireland never really threatened to score. There was a great opportunity for Shane Long on 10 minutes when he collected a pass from McCarthy, twisted and turned Andreas Granqvist, but blasted a shot well over the bar.

Under Trapattoni, Ireland have a history of failing to trouble goalkeepers. They registered the least amount of shots on target at last summer's Euro 2012 finals and that trend continued in this game as Long, Walters, Robbie Keane and James McClean made all the right moves without testing Andreas Isaksson.

Ireland definitely achieved their first objective of restricting Sweden from causing them too many problems. However, they looked slightly clueless at times when they rushed passes and failed to link play - clearly the missing ingredient was quality.

Defensively, Trapattoni's men stood up, kept Ibrahimovic quiet, and keeper David Forde made three excellent saves. That type of courageous play should be a given with this team, but more should be expected when they are in possession and that swings back around to the personnel selected.

On the left wing, McClean was frustratingly inconsistent with his crosses, especially from set-pieces, and one had to wonder whether Brady would have delivered - quite literally - far more and created goalscoring chances. But someone who has 10 assists for Hull City this season was overlooked for a player struggling to get into the Sunderland team.

Trapattoni possibly got away with that one and he will surely try to hype up the performance of Paul Green in the holding midfield role. Ahead of kick-off, the Leeds United man was trending on Twitter for all of the wrong reasons, but he proved a lot of his doubters wrong.

However, it could have been a lot better. What if Everton's Darron Gibson was in that role? He could break up play just as well and act as a linkman. While Wes Hoolahan only came off the bench on 77 minutes to replace Keane, who had long since run out of steam.

Yes, the overall display was positive in many ways and Ireland should be able to step up against Austria in Dublin on Tuesday. But, what if? What if they kept the ball better? What if they took shots from distance? What if Brady was whipping crosses into Long and Keane?

Those are the type of questions that Trapattoni should be answering, rather than have people rushing to pat him on the back for a brave point in Stockholm. It should have been three points and that may come back to haunt them as Group C opens up more over the coming months.

Of course, a point away from home is positive. Although, the stats don't lie and failing to hit a single shot on target tells the true story of this Irish team under a manager who restricts them from becoming an attacking force.

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