The Republic of Ireland put in a sterling defensive performance as they held Sweden to a goalless draw in their World Cup Qualifying Group C match at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
The Irish are now unbeaten in 14 away qualifiers under manager Giovanni Trapattoni, and will go into Tuesday’s qualifier against Austria at Aviva Stadium in fourth place in Group C with seven points from four games.
Ireland were able to nullify the threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, with Ciaran Clark outstanding at centre-half, and created their own threat down the flanks through James McClean and Seamus Coleman.
They were indebted to their goalkeeper David Forde for securing a point, however. The 33-year-old, making his first competitive international start, made a crucial stop in the last minute to tip over an effort from Rasmus Elm.
Trapattoni picked James McCarthy to replace the injured Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield, with Jon Walters preferred to Robbie Brady on the right in an attempt to give the side a more defensive shape.
The Irish were up for it from the first whistle, snapping at the ankles of the Sweden midfield, and looking to Seamus Coleman on the right and McClean on the left to provide the width.
Shane Long had an early chance in the 10th minute when he forced Andreas Granquist left and then right, but having created the opportunity, the West Brom striker shot over from 20 yards when well-placed.
Forde produced a fine save in the 24th minute when Kim Kallstrom’s inswinging free-kick from the right came through a wall of players.
The Millwall goalkeeper would have seen the ball late, but did brilliantly to hurl himself to his right to make the stop.
Ibrahimovic was mostly well-marshalled by Clark in the first half, but showed his threat in the 35th minute by dropping his shoulder on John O’Shea to create a shooting chance.
Forde was a relieved man when the Paris St Germain striker’s left-footed shot clipped off Coleman for a corner.
Forde almost undid his earlier good work in the 37th minute when he charged out to catch a Sebastian Larsson corner, only to miss the ball completely, but Ibrahimovic was unable to direct his header goalwards.
Sweden had far more of the ball in the second half, though the disciplined Ireland defence kept chances to a minimum.
They needed Paul Green on the edge of the six-yard box to clear an effort from Alexander Kacaniklic in the 84th minute, then Forde was alert in injury-time to deny Elm after substitute Ola Toivonen had flicked on in the area.
The one worry for Trapattoni ahead of Tuesday’s crucial qualifier against Austria is that Ireland failed to muster a shot on target in the game.
MAN OF THE MATCH
James McCarthy (Republic of Ireland): The Wigan player was superb defensively, and the one Ireland player who looked comfortable on the ball in midfield. His quick passing and interplay with James McClean and Shane Long gave Ireland the chance to break occasionally in the second half.
MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATISTICS