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Saturday September 7, 2013 MYT 7:17:01 AM
Saturday September 7, 2013 MYT 7:17:14 AM
by padraic halpin
Sweden's Anders Svensson celebrates after scoring a goal against Ireland during their World Cup qualifying soccer match at The Aviva Stadium in Dublin, September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Anders Svensson marked his record-equalling 143rd international appearance with the winning goal as Sweden beat Ireland 2-1 on Friday to take a big step towards securing the keenly-contested World Cup qualifying Group C runners-up spot.
Svensson fired home just before the hour after Johan Elmander's flying first-half header had cancelled out Robbie Keane's early strike, his 60th goal for Ireland.
The victory put Sweden three points clear of Ireland and Austria, who lost to group leaders Germany. With the worst goal difference among the three, Ireland must win in Austria on Tuesday and even that may not prove enough to stay in the hunt.
Sweden, who trail Germany by five points, visit Kazakhstan next before closing out the group with home games against Austria and Germany.
"We had a really important victory today," Sweden coach Erik Hamren told a news conference.
"We had the fight, the attitude I want to see. If you take away the first 20 minutes, we saw the strength of the team... (But) you have to win the games remaining. We focus on the next day because Kazakhstan is not an easy game."
It all looked very different when, in front of a feverish full house at the Aviva Stadium, the hosts started with far more intent than they had shown in previous qualifiers, forcing the pace in a frantic opening 15 minutes.
Sweden, on the other hand, were misplacing pass after pass and were nearly made to pay when sloppy play handed possession to James McClean whose cross looped over Andreas Isaksson and on to the crossbar.
A minute later, Ireland had the lead. Keane capitalised on a mistake from Mikael Lustig to poke the ball past the advancing Isaksson. The Irish captain was taken down but got up in time to react when the ball came back off the post and hammer it home.
That woke the visitors up.
Elmander first went close before Sebastian Larsson somehow missed the target with a close-range header after the otherwise quiet Zlatan Ibrahimovic had found the winger in acres of space with a pinpoint cross.
Striker Elmander levelled the score with a far more difficult header three minutes later, stealing a march on the returning Richard Dunne to power Lustig's cross into the roof of the net.
The second half started at a far more moderate pace that suited the visitors and Ibrahimovic in particular. The Paris Saint-Germain forward first put Larsson through, only for Ireland goalkeeper David Forde to stop him going any further.
Ireland failed to heed the warning and a minute later Ibrahimovic, again afforded far too much space in front of the back four, slipped a simple ball through for Svensson to mark his Swedish record-equalling appearance with the decisive goal.
"We don't need a miracle," said Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, whose side were booed by a section of the crowd at the final whistle.
"Obviously our position in this moment is difficult but our dream must be alive... until the table says we are completely out. Our game against Austria is very important, we need to beat Austria."
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