Sweden U21 0
Ireland U21 2
A STRONG defensive performance was key as Ireland bolstered their European Championship qualification hopes with a 2-0 win over Sweden at Borås Arena today.
Ross Tierney’s well-taken 12th-minute finish and Tyreik Wright’s late second were enough to win, as the Boys in Green beat the Swedes for a second game in a row.
The hosts had plenty of possession and territory but lacked the creativity to break down opponents, while Ireland were clinical on the rare opportunities they had to attack.
Sweden entered the match as group leaders, four points clear of Ireland, although Jim Crawford’s side were one game behind.
The hosts were also looking to avenge a defeat in the second leg at Tallaght Stadium last November when Ollie O’Neill scored with the game’s final kick to hand Ireland a well-deserved 1-0 win.
As they did in the home encounter, Ireland started with a back five, with Mark McGuinness, Jake O’Brien and Oisin McEntee as centre-backs, while Lee O’Connor and Joel Bagan were at the back. rear right and left. respectively.
Meanwhile, Mipo Odubeko, the Doncaster striker on loan from West Ham, was given a first start up front, with Tierney and O’Neill either side of him.
In the 11th minute, Sweden came close. Jesper Tolinsson found Amin Sarr with a ball over and the striker escaped the attentions of McEntee, but Brian Maher slumped well to make the save.
Moments later, however, Ireland were in the lead. Gavin Kilkenny’s cross was only half obliterated and Tierney was on hand to blast a well-executed first effort.
It was youngster Motherwell’s second goal in seven appearances for the Irish U21s.
Sweden continued to probe afterward, dominating possession and controlling play. The Irish backline were defending well, however, with players like McEntee and McGuinness setting up good blocks and keeping clean chances to a minimum.
The hosts opened up the defense just before the half hour mark. Sarr slid through Armin Gigović, but Maher came off his line quickly to tighten the angle and make a good save.
Ireland were content to sit and play on the counter-attack for much of the first 45 games, with Sweden struggling to break through a compact defence, despite the hosts enjoying the majority of the ball.
Consequently, at the half-time whistle the visitors looked relatively comfortable, with the Swedes looking less threatening as the half progressed.
Sweden continued to attack in numbers after the break but were continually frustrated by a dogged Irish defence, even as the visitors were increasingly stuck in their own half.
Jens Gustafsson’s men made a number of changes as they sought to equalize but continued to be frustrated by a stubborn Irish backline as play entered its final stages.
There was a nervous moment amid cries for a penalty 10 minutes from time as Isak Jansson fell to a challenge from Bagan. The referee waved play, although replays suggest the Cardiff youngster had reason to be relieved.
Still, it was a rare scare, as Ireland otherwise saw the game in convincing fashion and wrapped up the game in the 88th minute with Wright’s goal.
Fellow substitute Joshua Kayode headed in a goal kick from Maher, and the Cork-born winger – currently on loan to Colchester from Aston Villa – burst into goal, seeing his initial effort saved before scoring the rebound to secure a hard-earned three-pointer.
Meanwhile, elsewhere today, Italy’s 1-0 victory over Bosnia means they are the new group leaders, while Crawford’s side move into third place.
Qualification remains in Ireland’s hands, as they prepare to face Bosnia (at home), Montenegro (at home) and Italy (away) in the final three games, which take will all take place in June.
First or second place, which would take them to the play-offs, seems increasingly possible before the decisive meetings.
Sweden: 1. Samuel Brolin 2. Emil Holm 3. Aiham Ousou 14. Jesper Tolinsson 5. Eric Kahl 8. Armin Gigović (Jansson 67) 10. Hampus Finndel 6. Bilal Hussein (Gustavsson 50) 9. Amin Sarr 7. Patrik Wålemark 11 Paulos Abraham (Ondrejka 67)
Subtitles: 12. Oliver Dovin 13. Anton Eriksson 14. Noah Eile 15. Daniel Svensson 16. Carl Gustavsson 17. Jacob Ondrejka 18. Isak Jansson 19. Rami Al Hajj 20. Roony Bardghji
Ireland: 1. Brian Maher 2. Lee O’Connor 3. Joel Bagan 4. Mark McGuiness 13. Jake O’Brien 5. Oisin McEntee 6. Conor Coventry 7. Gavin Kilkenny 14. Ollie O’Neill (Wright 64) 17. Ross Tierney 11 Mipo Odubeko (Kayode 70).
Subtitles: 16. Luke McNicholas 8. Dawson Devoy 9. Joshua Kayode 10. Killian Phillips 12. Colm Whelan 15. Andy Lyons 18. Tyreik Wright 19. Darragh Burns 20. Joe Redmond