IF Ireland are to return from Solna with a positive result Friday night, Giovanni Trapattoni may have to unleash the shackles and adopt an attacking philosophy.
That’s the belief of the former Sweden centre-back Glenn Hysen, who played with IFK Gothenburg, PSV Eindhoven, Fiorentina and Liverpool during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Now part of the coaching staff with Utsiktens BK in his native land, Hysen is quickly able to pinpoint the biggest problem in his country’s side.
“It’s the middle of the defence,” Hysen says. “They concede far too many goals.
“Everybody has caused us problems. The Faroe Islands scored against us back in October and Kazakhstan had quite a few chances even though we defeated them 2-0. The goals Germany scored in the 4-4 draw could easily have been five or six. It’s a real problem.”
Their regular centre-back pairing is Genoa’s Andreas Granqvist and Jonas Olsson of West Brom.
“They are not the perfect couple,” Hysen explains. “I think they are too similar to each other. Olsson has done well in the Premier League but he’s not produced the same form for the national team on a regular basis.
“There aren’t many options available though. Daniel Majstorovic is another who can play in that position. Unfortunately he is now 35.
“So if Ireland do go to Sweden and attack they could get a good result. Trapattoni was managing in Italy when I played there. He likes his teams to be solid but if Ireland can go forward they could do well.“
Despite the Germans surrendering a four-goal lead to the Swedes to finish with just a point from their last competitive outing, Hysen can only see the three-time World Cup winners topping Group C. That means the rest are competing for second place.
“For me it’s between Ireland and us [for runner up spot],” he says. “I think both countries will defeat Austria, Kazakhstan and the Faroes. So a lot will depend on who wins this game and the result when Sweden travel to Dublin.”
The Swedes finished bottom of their group at last summer’s European Championships. While Trappatoni’s squad didn’t register a single point in doing the same, Sweden earned three courtesy of a 2-0 victory over France. Their other outings consisted of narrow defeats against Ukraine and England.
It meant they entered the qualification process for Brazil 2014 in a more positive frame of mind than those with deflated green allegiances.
Their sensational draw with the Germans after trailing by a quartet of goals was followed by a memorable 4-2 win over England in November.
"Those type of results are very encouraging for us," Hysen continues. "Of course the star attraction is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I don't think he's ever been in better form. He seems to be scoring every week.
"People often criticised him for his displays against English sides in the Champions League. Scoring four against England has quietened a lot of those people.
"In every team you need a star like Zlatan. Robbie Keane has done a similar job for Ireland over the years. They are the type of players who don't come along too often and are very difficult to replace.
"Robbie's best years may be past him now but he can still do well, especially if Sweden continue to struggle in defence."
Hysen added that Ireland's current crop of international footballers lack the stature of players from a previous generation.
“At USA ’94 I worked for Swedish TV and we reported on some of the Ireland games. They were a really good side in that period between 1988 and 1994. Obviously the players they have now don't possess the same quality.
“But I watch enough of the Premier League to know that this will still be a very difficult fixture.” ENDS
John Hynes is a journalist based in Liverpool and writes for Liverpool FC Monthly Magazine amongst others. You can follow him on Twitter on @hynesjohn
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