Captain Katie McCabe was Ireland's goal-scoring hero.

Ireland secure one of the biggest results in their history with monumental draw in Sweden

Katie McCabe’s first-half goal sealed a crucial point against one of the top teams in the world.

Sweden 1

Republic of Ireland 1

UNDOUBTEDLY ONE OF the biggest results in Irish women’s football history.

This was a David versus Golliath battle for Vera Pauw’s Girls In Green, and they leave Gothenburg with one incredibly valuable point. A famous win wasn’t to be, but they held on for a disciplined draw after a remarkable shift.

Katie McCabe clearly read the controversial new jersey and Ireland showed how to ‘maybe stand a chance against Sweden,’ the world heavyweights, ranked 28 places above them.

There were other heroes: a stout defensive effort and a flawless performance from goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan, who may not have played at all had Megan Walsh’s preparations not been hit by Covid. 

The hosts needed just a point at the Gamla Ullevi Stadium to qualify automatically for the 2023 World Cup, but the celebrations were certainly curtailed as their perfect record in this campaign so far took a hit.

McCabe’s 43rd-minute goal was just the second the Olympic silver medallists and favourites for this summer’s European Championships conceded through this qualification bid. Ultimately a famous Irish win wasn’t to be – courtesy of Kosovare Asllani’s goal 11 minutes from time – but these were Sweden’s first dropped qualification points at home since 2010.

Ireland’s dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament is more alive than ever, firmly in the driving seat in the race for second place – and a coveted play-off spot – in Group A. 

Shelbourne’s Chloe Mustaki impressed in for her first competitive start, lining out at left-wing-back and allowing captain and Arsenal start to push further up that flank. Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Megan Connolly reverted to the left side of the back three after injury blows in that department, while Heather Payne and Jamie Finn also came into the XI.

Barcelona star Fridolina Rolfö and Filippa Angeldal of Manchester City dropped to the Swedish bench, but a reshuffle mattered little to Peter Gerhardsson’s star-studded outfit.

From the word go, they nonchalantly played the ball around in front of an almost capacity crowd of 12,123; over and back, up and down, patient in their build-up and playing any which way. Three Little Birds – pigeons, to be precise – nestled down on the right side of the Irish defence early on, as they set their stall out.

Europe’s most-capped player Caroline Seger was Sweden’s beating heart and Player of the Match, almost everything going through the electric 37-year-old as Arsenal superstar Stina Blackstenius up top took serious watching from the Irish.

Brosnan was outstanding in goal, and made several vital interceptions in the first half. Denise O’Sullivan was Ireland’s answer to Seger around the middle, the Cork ace mixing fire with ice as she battled doggedly but enjoyed moments of magic on the ball.

Hanna Bennison saw yellow for a bad tackle on her, though that only riled O’Sullivan up more as any (very brief) attacking play saw her look to link up with McCabe and Heather Payne.

As time ticked slowly on, Sweden clicked through the gears and heaped relentless pressure on their visitors. Jonna Andersson did well down the left and whipped a cross into Lina Hurtig, who headed over under pressure from Connolly.

Ireland were forced to defend deeper and deeper, with Lucy Quinn and McCabe producing last-ditch tackles before a massive sigh of relief was breathed in the 32nd minute when Kosovare Asllani rattled the underside of the crossbar after Bennison played her through.

The vocal Swedish crowd demanded more, and were unhappy with an offside call on Blackstenius, who appeared to be impeded in the box. Penalty shouts fell on deaf ears.

After a period of intense backs-to-the-wall defending, McCabe had Ireland’s first shot on target in the 40th minute. Hedvig Lindahl calmly dealt with her tame effort.

nathalie-bjorn-with-leanne-kiernan Sweden’s Nathalie Björn with Leanne Kiernan of Ireland. Tommy Holl / INPHO Tommy Holl / INPHO / INPHO

But not the next. Completely against the run of play; all odds, expectations and everything in between.

Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson, who had been brilliant up to that point, saw yellow for a needless cynical foul on O’Sullivan around the middle, and it unravelled from there. Rather than go direct, McCabe opted to play a short pass to Connolly on the right, who in turn, sent a lovely cross into the box. Sweden half-cleared, but only to O’Sullivan and then McCabe, whose shot from the edge of the box took a deflection – off Eriksson – into the back of the net and stunned the stadium.

The Swedes fell silent as the Irish celebrated, the pocketfuls of travelling fans – some of whom waved a Save Tolka Park flag – dotted around the ground certainly making their presence felt.

The second half brought more of the same. The Swedes weren’t happy after conceding, and the pressure intensified. Brosnan’s brilliant performance continued: the US-born ‘keeper cut out a dangerous cross from Asllani, before an outrageous fingertips save kept an effort from substitute Angeldal out on the hour-mark.

She also drew endless boos from the crowd for, shall we say, being economical with time when needed. Ireland weren’t exactly that with the ball, preferring to simply hoof it when necessary, in contrast to first-half proceedings.

Their few ventures up-field saw a McCabe penalty call waved on, along with their one and only corner of the game in the 52nd minute, and the beginning of the downfall. Ireland were caught flat-footed, and the Sweden pounced on the counter.

Substitute Olivia Schough, who once played with Louise Quinn at Eskilstuna United, made an immediate impact by setting up the ever-threatening Asllani for a simply stunning 79th-minute equaliser. 

It felt inevitable that the damn would burst with Blackstenius and Hurtig also going close in the lead-up. The aftermath was similar, as Sweden pushed on for the winner.

Thankfully, despite time dragging on for eternity, and a few scares down the home straight, it never came.

And Ireland held on for one of the biggest results in their history.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Courtney Brosnan; Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Megan Connolly: Jamie Finn, Ruesha Littlejohn, Denise O’Sullivan, Chloe Mutaki; Lucy Quinn, Katie McCabe; Heather Payne (Leanne Kiernan 74).

SWEDEN: Hedvig Lindahl; Linda Sembrant (Fridolina Rolfo 56), Amanda Ilestedt, Magdalena Eriksson; Hanna Glas (Nathalie Bjorn 76), Hanna Bennison (Filippa Angeldal 56), Caroline Seger, Jonna Andersson; Lina Hurtig (Olivia Schough 76), Kosovare Asllani, Stina Blackstenius.

Referee: Iuliana Demetrescu (ROU).

In the final episode of the series, The Front Row – The42’s new rugby podcast in partnership with Guinness – welcomes comedian Killian Sundermann in to studio. The online funnyman fills us in on his schools rugby days, gaining recognition during the pandemic, making his stand-up debut and travelling around Europe in a van. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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