Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden needed an own goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with fighting Ireland as Group E got going at Euro 2016 on Monday.
Norwich's Wes Hoolahan opened the scoring for Ireland with a classy half-volley three minutes into the second half but Sweden then stepped up the pace and levelled in the 71st when Ciaran Clark headed Ibrahimovic's cross into his own net.
Ireland dominated the first half, in which Robbie Bradie hit the crossbar and the former Paris Saint-Germain star Ibrahimovic was completely contained but they then paid the price for sitting back too much after the opening goal.
The draw may help neither side as Group E also features 2012 runners-up Italy and former world ranking leaders Belgium who were to meet in evening game in Lyon.
"The first half wasn't good at all, but the second half was much better. We created opprotunities and tried to control the ball. Thanks to that we created chances," Ibrahimovic told Swedish TV.
"There are two matches left, we have to get the points we need to advance. We didn’t lose, that’s what matters," he said.
Ibrahimovic added: "I did what I could, considering the passes I got." Coach Erik Hamren agreed, saying "the attacking play was not really good" but pointed out that Ibrahimovic was involved in the equalizer.
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill said his men played Ibrahimovic "exceptionally well. We forced him away from our goal as much as possible and it worked a treat."
O'Neill was delighted overall, saying his men were "magnificent and played some really good football. The goal (equalizer) deflates you, there is disappointment in the dressing room obviously. But they should be absolutely thrilled with the way they played."
The Stade de France, all but sold out with 73,419, was bathed in a sea of Irish green and Swedish yellow, and the Ireland fans were in fine and full voice long before kick-off.
They enjoyed a strong first half from their heroes against a timid Sweden on a cool and overcast but dry afternoon.
Jeff Hendrick had a first shot parried by goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and in the 17th John O'Shea somehow failed to tap into an empty net at the far right post after Clark had dangerously headed on Robbie Brady's corner.
Ibrahomovic only got a small chance for himself in the 21st when he aimed a free-kick from some 30m straight into the Irish wall while on the other end Brady's 20m blast went inches over the bar and Hendrick's shot from a similar distance hit the crossbar.
Ireland eventually claimed a deserved lead in the 48th.
Seamus Coleman got past two defenders on the right, crossed into the back of the Swedish defence and Hoolahan converted with a curling half-volley into the right corner, a goal that helped him take the man-of-the-match award.
The goal finally woke up the Swedes, and within in a series of corner kicks Emil Forsberg aimed wide left after Darren Randolph had saved a first header.
Ibrahimovic's flick went just wide left off Martin Olsson's low cross, and it appeared only a matter of time that they were punished.
That finally happed in the 71st when Ibrahimovic crossed from the left and Clark, in an attempt to clear under pressure, headed into his own net at the near left post.
Manager Martin O'Neill brought veteran Robbie Keane on for his 143rd cap in attempt to regain the lead but it was to no avail as Ireland remain on just one win from their now seven games overall at the Euros, a famous 1-0 over England in their 1988 debut.
Saturday, June 25, 2016 - 17:01