Republic of Ireland 0 Sweden 1
No shame in giving the Olympic silver medalists a late scare. No one at all.
The playoffs were easy enough. Leanne Kiernan rushed into the fight, rushing down to the right and planting a ball at injury time on the head of provisional midfielder Louise Quinn.
Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson knows that old Irish trick, and immediately sends in Nilla Fischer to hide Quinn.
On Monday, Ireland manager Vera Pauw promised a tactical surprise for Katie McCabe. The Irish skipper fully expected another 90 minutes as back-tracking back, but from kick-off she drove away Ireland’s lone striker Heather Payne – forever better known as The Running Woman.
McCabe sat down to the left of a compact midfield four. That meant she could take her slides across the pond after some spectacular hits for Arsenal this season.
In nine minutes, McCabe let fly, catching it badly, as a rare chance flashed next to him.
Then the powerful Swedes were reconfiguring the matrix. They are used to seeing blocks of five and four in front of them. It comes with the territory.
With Quinn rallying the Irish defense and some early interceptions by Denise O’Sullivan, as the North Carolina Courage midfielder threatened the performance of her life, the world number two nation began to look for weaknesses.
Sweden’s first stop was Courtney Brosnan, after some obvious mistakes against Ukraine and Australia, but the Everton goalkeeper refused to waver. There would be many, many shots and no one hit her.
The first collective inhalation from a crowd of 4,017, mostly young girls, came after 18 minutes when Stina Blackstenius strolled into the box and took a tumbling during Jamie Finn’s challenge. Swiss judge Deborah Anex refused to blink. Everyone could breathe out. Ireland was blessed.
Sweden simply increased the tempo and came through the middle where O’Sullivan slammed the door in the face of Filippa Angeldal. Cork wizard never wastes a patch of open grass with an extra touch.
A potential disaster looms when O’Sullivan appeared to seriously injure her elbow during injury time.
Back in the game, in 26 minutes Finn won a corner for McCabe to aim for Quinn’s noggin. Would this be the moment? Unfortunately, these tall yellow trees love to defend their goal game as much as they plan to score from corners. The attack fumbled but only after McCabe jumped between two Swedes on the finish line and tried to create a miracle.
Blackstenius became impatient and 10 minutes before the break she fired a rocket that Brosnan expertly tipped over the crossbar. A row of corners poured gasoline on the fire, which Quinn’s green line somehow held.
That is what makes leaving the goal before half time seem so cruel. Just as the Irish full-backs came on the field, Angeldal unleashed a swift counterattack, finding the long-range Blackstenius run by Savannah McCarthy and Quinn. Until McCarthy slipped and invited a low shot that caught Quinn’s heal and rolled past a misplaced Brosnan.
The other 45 minutes were supposed to go down in a high-intensity attack versus defense training, but surprisingly, Sweden leaned back and invited Ireland.
Sofia Jakobsson took the exception that McCabe would get out of trouble by removing the Swedish number 10. The yellow card appeared right and the resulting free kick saw Lucy Quinn miss the goal with a low shot.
Lina Hurtig also received a warning for having tripped Payne and Finn demanded quick revenge when the yellow cards started to run but Ireland wasted the moment.
Brosnan deserves huge praise for having recovered from the mental torture of former caps to keep Ireland in this competition. Louise Quinn must have dizziness from keeping track of Blackstenius and a special twist and turn forced the New Jersey-born goalkeeper to another fine save.
For what Brosnan lacks in smart distribution, she regains courage. This performance should fill her self-confidence with breadth.
The same goes for the rest of them. Now Ireland must patiently take apart Finland in Helsinki on Tuesday as Sweden did against them. Their development requires it, but without O’Sullivan’s firefly presence, that task could be beyond them.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Brosnan; Finn, Fahey, Louise Quinn, McCarthy, O’Gorman; Lucy Quinn (Barrett, 74 min), Connolly (Noonan, 90 min), O’Sullivan, McCabe; Payne (Kiernan, 74 min).
SWEDEN: Lindahl; Glas, Llestedt, Eriksson, Andersson; Bennison (Zigiotti Olme, 76 min), Rolfö, Angeldal; Jakobsson (Fischer, 88 min), Blackstenius, Hurtig (Schough, 60 min).
Judge: Deborah Anex (Switzerland).