Ireland prepare for opener against Sweden

Seven months on from that magic night in Dublin when a Jon Walters double saw off Bosnia-Herzegovina, our boys finally get their Euro 2016 campaign underway on Monday.

In the toughest Euro 2016 group of them all, we start by facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden at the Stade de France with kick-off at 5pm before taking on Italy and Belgium.

Preparations at the team base in Versailles have already received one major boost with the announcement that Martin O’Neill has agreed a contract extension as our manager.

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.
Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs
Livepic

Assistant Roy Keane and coaches Steve Guppy, Seamus McDonagh and Steve Walford will also remain in their respective roles for the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign in September.

O’Neill, who captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, said: “I’ve shaken hands with (chief executive) John (Delaney), that’s all that’s necessary.

“John felt that going into the Euros it might be a decent thing to do, so fine. I’m happy with it.

“John and I had a conversation, I’ve shaken hands with him and I have implicit trust in him.

“I’ve always said this: the players play and want to play regardless of who is in charge. We’ve had a good run the last two years and we want to continue.”

O’Neill has selected a squad packed with experience, with an average age of 29.39 and 11 players aged 30 or over.

And with Robbie Keane, Robbie Brady and James McCarthy all back in training, striker Jonathan Walters is the only real doubt for the Sweden game as he tries to shake off a calf problem.

Jonathan Walters celebrates Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
Jonathan Walters celebrates
Reuters / Cathal McNaughton
Livepic

Walters’ goals were crucial in securing our place at Euro 2016, none more so than in the play-off second leg in Dublin, and Shane Long will provide a vital counter-attacking outlet.

But it may be the defence which is most severely tested on Monday evening by the Swede everyone is talking about – Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The 35-year-old – seemingly set for Manchester United – will be looking to test John O’Shea and his centre-back partner, whether that be Richard Keogh or Ciaran Clark.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic Reuters/Ruben Sprich Picture Supplied by Action Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Reuters/Ruben Sprich
Picture Supplied by Action Images

The fact that Ibrahimovic scored 11 of Sweden’s 19 goals in qualifying, including three against Denmark in the two-legged play-off, is just one demonstration of his prowess in front of goal.

But, as a team that beat reigning world champions Germany during the qualifying stages, there is every reason to believe that we can get off to the perfect start.

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