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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 20 December, 2014

5 things we learned from last night’s Sweden-Ireland game

Our thoughts on Paul Green, Wes Hoolahan and the new-look Irish defence.

Ireland goalkeeper David Forde celebrates after the game
Ireland goalkeeper David Forde celebrates after the game

1. Paul Green exceeded expectations – but still could do with improving his passing

Upon hearing the news that Green would be handed a surprise starting spot for a potentially make-or-break World Cup qualifier against Sweden, the typical response among Irish football followers was disbelief.

However, last night, amid Ireland’s impressive display, the Leeds midfielder went some way towards alleviating the doubts about him being able to compete at this level.

Granted, his passing all too often left much to be desired, but without the ball, he was very effective in playing the Claude Makelele/Gennaro Gattuso role and protecting the back four.

He broke up Swedish attacks on several occasions, more often than not finding himself in the right place at the right time, persistently frustrating the Swedes with his well-timed tackles and unrelenting interceptions.

That said, he’ll surely require much more than one encouraging display to merit a regular place in the side. Indeed, in many people’s eyes, he’ll remain a Championship player inexplicably chosen ahead of ostensibly superior, Premier League-based alternatives.

2. Wes Hoolahan needs to start against Austria

Despite being given limited time to prove his worth against the Swedes, Hoolahan provided the side with a palpable spark immediately after coming on yesterday.

Although he occasionally showed some nice touches, Robbie Keane, in contrast, ultimately delivered an ineffectual performance in attack, before being replaced by the ex-Shels star in the dying stages of the match.

Hoolahan, while maybe not possessing the experience and defensive instincts of Keane, swiftly looked at home playing in his best position behind the striker, and thus deserves a starting spot on Tuesday.

With his tendency to constantly demand the ball and look to play the incisive pass, the Norwich man stood out in a team that lacked invention prior to his arrival on the field, adding an extra dimension to the attack in the process.

Three days from now, Trap’s team face an Austrian side that has only conceded two goals in qualifying thus far. Consequently, an imaginative player of Hoolahan’s rare ilk will surely be needed to help break down their stubborn rearguard.

3. Sweden are not quite as formidable as many people assumed

(Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Green of Ireland – INPHO/Donall Farmer)

On the face of it, a draw in Stockholm is an extremely welcome result.

However, on reflection, some fans and critics will feel Ireland underachieved, given the surprisingly below-par nature of their opponents.

Yet should this really come as such a surprise? Ibrahimovic aside, the Swedish players are playing at a level that’s more or less on a par with their Irish counterparts.

It seems that, in relation to the Swedes’ ability, people have been fooled by two misleading recent games – their defeat of England (it was only a friendly), and their spirited 4-4 draw with Germany (a freak result that was probably down to German complacency more than anything else).

Therefore, given how ordinary their opponents looked last night, Ireland should feel confident that they can now finish (at the very least) second in the group.

4. The Irish defence can cope with the absence of Richard Dunne and Shay Given

Many people feared for Ireland during this campaign, given the respective retirement and acquisition of a long-term injury of Given and Dunne – two players who have been cornerstones of the side for years.

And while their absence was conspicuous in the 6-1 hammering by Germany, it was barely noticeable last night.

Ciaran Clark played with the type of composure that suggested he had been in the side for years, while David Forde recovered well after one or two scary moments early on, growing into the game and making a few vital saves thereafter.

John O’Shea looked a different player to the hapless individual who featured against the Germans, while Coleman and Wilson were as competent and industrious as any previous full-back in the Trap era, and have seemingly solidified their places in the backline as a result.

Nevertheless, the back four will doubtless face sterner tests than the one given in Stockholm in future, and so it is only with time that a true reflection of their ability will be discerned.

5. Giovanni Trapattoni has not become a bad manager overnight

Following Ireland’s disastrous performance against Germany, Trapattoni was written off all too promptly in certain quarters.

Of course, the subsequent reaction was exacerbated by several other factors – namely, the team’s equally uninspired displays at the Euros and Trap’s questionable treatment of certain players.

Yet while the manner of the surrenders may have been disappointing, it would take a considerable optimist to expect Ireland to take points off any of Croatia, Spain, Italy or Germany in the first place.

Sweden, on the other hand, are closer to the side’s level, and a draw away from home against the Scandinavian outfit undoubtedly represents a respectable result.

Accordingly, despite a few demoralising defeats over the past year or so, it appears Ireland remain in relatively rude health under Trapattoni.

Moreover, with players such as Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy emerging as potential new stars of the side, the outlook seems nowhere near as gloomy now as it did amid the spate of retirements and acrimony post-Euro 2012.

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Here’s how the Ireland players rated against Sweden tonight>

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