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Sweden v Ireland: 3 key battles ahead of tonight's match

We assess the danger men for the Swedes, as well as our own integral individuals.

Sweden's Kim Kallstrom possesses a potent left foot.
Sweden's Kim Kallstrom possesses a potent left foot.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Ciaran Clark

ON PAPER, THE odds in this battle appear heavily stacked against Clark.

The Villa defender remains relatively inexperienced, particularly when it comes to international football, and is set to face one of the world’s best strikers.

Moreover, it’s hard to think of a worse time that Ireland could face the imperious striker, as he has performed exceptionally at club level this season, notching 25 goals in 26 appearances.

Clark, in comparison, has suffered a difficult time in a Villa side that has consistently struggled in the Premier League.

Nonetheless, despite the odd costly error, the young defender is currently one of the more highly rated players at his club, and is generally well thought of in the eyes of the Villa Park faithful.

At the very least, he will be hoping to perform better than his counterpart, Darren O’Dea, did in the last big qualifier against Germany.

YouTube credit: rom7oooHD

Robbie Keane v Jonas Olsson

Robbie Keane has his critics, but whenever Giovanni Trapattoni’s side need a goal, the LA Galaxy striker remains the most likely candidate to deliver.

He has flourished since joining LA Galaxy, quickly establishing himself as one of the side’s most influential players.

Keane also has 54 goals in 122 internationals – a record comparable to any of the world’s best attackers (Messi, for instance, has 31 goals in 77 appearances).

And Shane Long – one of our other most viable goalscorers – by contrast, has eight goals in 33 appearances for Ireland.

Keane and Long will likely have their work cut out for them coming up against Jonas Olsson.

West Brom have generally been quite solid at the back this season, thanks in so small part to Olsson’s contribution.

In fact, he has even seemingly caught the eye of one or two other Premier League clubs, with the star being linked to both Arsenal and QPR in January.

And his club’s willingness to offer him a new four-year deal in October was proof, if any were needed, of the impression the player has made at the Hawthorns.

In addition to providing a steadying influence in defence, Olsson is also a threat in attack from set pieces, as the clip below illustrates.

YouTube credit: HighlightGolTV

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Kim Kallstrom v Paul Green

Another individual contest that appears to weigh heavily in Sweden’s favour.

Paul Green remains a relative novice in terms of international football, while Kallstrom is set to earn his 100th cap tonight.

Moreover, while the Swedish player’s clubs have included the eminent likes of Rennes, Lyon and Spartak Moscow, Green has spent the majority of time essentially being a football journeyman, featuring for a number of lower league English clubs.

With Glenn Whelan now absent, Green will surely be even under more pressure to impose his influence on the game, as Ireland’s primary battling midfielder.

Whether he can succeed against a player as cultured and intelligent as Kallstrom remains highly doubtful.

However, Irish players have thrived against ostensibly superior opponents before – think Keith Andrews against France in Paris in that infamous playoff, or Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland at the 2002 World Cup.

Yet Green will surely have to produce the performance of a lifetime and hope Kallstrom has a bad day at the office if they are to get any joy in this area.

Green and his teammates must also be wary of conceding free-kicks that are within goalscoring range, as Kallstrom specialises in this department.

YouTube credit: macoolable

On a sidenote, Ireland also need to keep an eye on Swedish centre-back Andreas Granqvist, given his occasional tendency to score spectacular solo goals:

YouTube credit: Daan Middeljans

YouTube credit: ebbuh1986

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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