Ireland make their point to secure historic draw against European giants Sweden
Sweden 1 Ireland 1
A little bit for everyone in Gothenburg.
Sweden secured the point required for World Cup qualification, while Ireland made a demonstrative point in the argument that they may be more than capable of joining them in Australia and New Zealand next year.
If the global showpiece is all about belonging, Ireland seemed comfortable with that concept here, denying the Swedes the celebratory romp that their 12,123 fans had expected.
This is a red-letter day for the sport, Ireland demonstrating that they can live in this company, sparking memories of Olivia O’Toole’s goal against Spain all those years ago in barren times.
Katie McCabe’s stunning, deflected effort on the brink of half-time was a handsome reward for stoic, committed zeal to a disciplined defensive effort which nullified so many threats.
Only when Sweden drafted in their outstanding talents from the bench did they vaguely justify their vaunted status as the best in Europe and second best in the world.
Kosovare Asilani nabbed the equaliser their dominant display arguably warranted but the draw was deserved.
Sweden could and should have scored more but Ireland’s occasional luck was drawn from effort and determination.
Finland’s win against Georgia gives the table a misguided appearance; Ireland lie in third but with their own Georgian trip to come, they are now best-placed to achieve a play-off.
Chloe Mustaki made her competitive bow for Ireland at left wing-back as Vera Pauw made three changes to the side that walloped Georgia 11-0 in Tallaght in their last World Cup qualifier, allowing captain Katie McCabe to push higher up field.
The two other changes saw Jamie Finn restored to replicate her right-back role from the reverse fixture against the Swedes in Dublin last October, replacing Jess Ziu. While up front, Heather Payne made her expected return ahead of Kyra Carusa.
The Swedes demolished Georgia 15-0 last Thursday and made four changes to their side, two of them enforced with Manchester City midfielder Filippa Angeldal and Barcelona forward Fridolina Rolfo ruled out with Covid symptoms, albeit both had tested negative.
They have also made an expected goalkeeping switch, with Hedvig Lindahl supplanting Jennifer Falk.
She was the first to be mildly perturbed as Ireland produced the first decent incision after just five minutes; Lucy Quinn battling well against youngster Hann Bennison and firing the ball wide to the very advanced McCabe, whose cross just eluded the inrushing Denise O’Sullivan with one of her typically late driving runs.
Bennison had caught Quinn late and when she also led with her studs on O’Sullivan in the 12 th minute, Romanian whistler Iuliana Demetrescu dished out her first yellow to confound doubt that the home side may need some physical protection from their visitors.
The Swedes were muted and so were the crowd, keeper Hedvig Lindahl forced to prompt some life into them as she started a collective bout of hand-clapping; a small gaggle of away fans could be heard singing their support above the gentle hubbub,
As it was, a trio of worm-seeking pigeons were the only occupants for much of the early exchanges as Ireland competed well against the sluggish hosts.
Poor in open play, only their first corner provided some alarm, Courtney Brosnan ineffectively punching Jonna Andersson’s corner into the path of Caroline Seger but her tame effort was blocked by Louise Quinn and Heather Payne cleared.
By now the pigeons, who had more chance of getting the Irish defence in a flap, had seen enough.
Sweden did make a foray down the left, Kosovare Asilani finding Andersson, whose cross found the hurtling Juve star Lina Hurtig but Connolly was imposing enough to ensure the header flew as high as the departing pigeons.
The Swedes did hit the target just after the half-hour, ageless conductor Caroline Seger finally breaching the defence with a neatly slipped pass to Bennison who in turn found Asilani who smashed the crossbar from no distance.
Littlejohn slumped to the turf for some treatment, conscious of her team’s need to breathe as the Swedes finally located some decent tempo; Megan Connolly almost conceded a penalty with a tug on Blackstenius but an offside flag reprieved her.
Forced wide for much of the piece with their 75% possession, Sweden finally made some inroads through the middle beyond the two banks of players competently settled in their low block.
Asilani’s shot was blocked by Louise Quinn as Ireland pleaded for time to sprint to the half-time oranges.
Momentary relief arrived when McCabe expertly controlled Connolly’s lofted free-kick but, forced turn on her weaker side, Hedvig Lindahl saved with ease.
Ireland’s use of the ball was poor, given their commitment to remain in defensive shape, but their individual intent to run from deep was impressive; a rare pass receipt from deep saw O’Sullivan turn Seger but was hauled back for her trouble; Seger was booked for hers.
Sweden defended the kick poorly; McCabe finding Connolly in acres of left-sided space, from where she launched a testing in-swinger, which the defence only half-cleared.
O’Sullivan juggled and retained the ball on the box’s left edge and calmly laid the ball back to McCabe; her first touch was magnificent, her second none too shabby either, a shot hammered with purpose and deflected beyond the despairing Lindahl.
Eriksson’s luckless leg helped the effort on its way, having also conceded the free-kick initially, completing a miserable half for her.
McCabe’s 14 th goal was threatening to become her most important yet. For all their possession and territory, Sweden had no shots on target; Ireland two.
The game remains a funny one all these years later.
Sweden had not lost a 90-minute game since before the pandemic; now an epidemic of anxiety gripped them as they returned to an even more subdued 12,123 audience.
The pattern remained the same, too; Ireland with their nine behind the ball as the Swedes prodded and probed but mostly plodded.
Enter the cavalry, boss Peter Gerhardsson flinging on Manchester City midfielder Filippa Angeldal and Barcelona forward Fridolina Rolfo to beef up his ailing side.
They immediately combined to stunning effect, the former setting up the latter for a fizzing drive but Courtney Brosnan responded with an equally dazzling save, tipping the shot onto the crossbar.
As in the first-half, Ireland enjoyed occasional, moderate relief, McCabe bursting forth at one stage before tumbling in the area and vainly pleading for an offence.
Arsenal star Blackstenius should have matched her club mate but headed poorly from Rolfo’s cross as the minutes agonisingly ticked by.
Liverpool’s goal machine Leanne Kiernan replaced the tireless running of Heather Payne with the message to run some more with the finishing line in sight.
Rolfo lofted another beauty into Hurtig who, again, should have scored but she headed wastefully wide.
And then the damn burst, as Ireland once more succumbed to the play-making influence of Rolfo, who pinged the ball to another new arrival, Olivia Scough on the left.
She cushioned the delivery inside to the Real Madrid star Asilani, gobbling up her 40 th international goal.
The crowd almost fell out of their sitting in exhausted relief as Ireland slumped to their feet in regret at what their mighty efforts might have achieved.
They had made their point nonetheless.
Sweden – H Lindahl; A Ilestedt, L Sembrant (F Rolfo 56), M Eriksson (F Angeldahl 55); H Glas (N Bjorn 75), H Bennison, C Seger capt, J Andersson; L Hurtig (O Scough 75), K Asilani, S Blackstenius.
Ireland - C Brosnan; N Fahey, L Quinn, M Connolly: J Finn, R Littlejohn, D O’Sullivan, C Mustaki; Lucy Quinn, K McCabe; H Payne (L Kiernan 75).
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