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Published: 18:21 | 13/6/16

Ireland draw with Sweden in Saint-Denis

Zlatan's boys fight back after Hoolahan opener

It's a case of what might have been, as Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden in their Euro 2016 Group E opener at the Stade de France.

Ireland took the lead after 48 minutes through Wes Hoolahan's brilliant half-volley, but then immediately sat back and allowed Erik Hamren's side to regain the initiative.

But a lumbering Sweden side still couldn't muster a shot on target through their own efforts, with the equaliser coming 19 minutes from the end when Ciaran Clark headed Zlatan Ibramovic's cross into his own net.

For 50 minutes the Ireland diamond shone in Saint-Denis, with Glenn Whelan immense at the base, the rock that allowed Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady to attack down the flanks.

And it was a 16th minute Brady set-piece that almost got Ireland on their way, with Clark's header from his whipped near-post corner just rolling past the desperate stretch of John O'Shea in the six-yard box.

But this wasn't the Ireland of old, content to soak up pressure with the vain hope of nicking a goal from a dodgily-awarded set-piece.

They were composed on the ball, tough in the tackle and eager to break down a Sweden side they quickly recognised were there for the beating.

Most of Ireland's dangerous moments came from that left boot of Brady, who tormented Mikael Lustig down the left flank, while Jeff Hendrick revelled in his role just off Hoolahan, and the Derby midfielder went closest for Ireland with a fine effort on 33 minutes that spanked off the Sweden crossbar.

Sweden were toothless and leaden, only able to offer a solitary, off-target shot in the opening 45 minutes, with an increasingly tetchy Zlatan disappearing deeper and deeper into O'Shea's pocket.

And any fears that Ireland's momentum might be lost during the half-time break were soon dissipated as Hoolahan broke the deadlock with a brilliant half-volley into the far corner from Coleman's gambolling run into the area and chip.

Which made what happened next all the more inexplicable – Ireland lost their shape, allowed Sweden onto them, and almost paid the price immediately, with first Emil Forsberg and then Zlatan going close as Martin O'Neill's defence panicked.

And the inevitable Sweden equaliser arrived on 71 minutes, as Clark headed Zlatan's cross from the left touchline into his own goal from point-blank range.

And with Belgium to come on Saturday for Ireland followed by Italy on Wednesday, and vice versa for Sweden, the nightmare scenario could be that both teams go out of the tournament with just this single point to show for their efforts.

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