PREVIEW - Ireland, Sweden seek redemption in opening Group E clash
By Philip O'Connor
PARIS (Reuters) - Ireland and Sweden meet in the Euro 2016 Group E opener at the Stade de France on Monday where a win would go a long way to redeeming their past failures in the championship and getting them to the knockout stage.
Drawn in a tough section with Belgium and Italy, a victory is of paramount importance to both sides' fortunes.
"The team that wins this game has a very good chance of progressing," Sweden coach Erik Hamren told Reuters recently.
"Even if we win or lose we still have a chance to go through but it's a lot smaller. It's a real key game."
Both teams also have a point to prove following dismal showings at Europe's flagship tournament four years ago.
Ireland scored one goal and conceded nine to become the first team eliminated from Euro 2012, while the Swedes threw away the lead twice in losing their first two games, to Ukraine and England, packing their bags shortly after the Irish.
As ever, Sweden will rely on their enigmatic 34-year-old captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has spent the last four years banging in goals in the French capital for Ligue 1 side Paris Saint Germain, but who is now leaving on a free transfer.
Strongly linked to a reunion with his former Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, now at Manchester United, Ibra was allowed to leave the Sweden camp on his days off to finalise a move, but all talk of his next club will be on ice when the action starts.
Ibrahimovic's burgeoning partnership with winger Emil Forsberg is likely to cause problems down Ireland's right flank, where full back Seamus Coleman should be partnered by combative Jon Walters who looks to have got over an Achilles problem.
Walters is among the survivors from the Giovanni Trapattoni-led side that performed so dismally four years ago, and he will be keen to erase the memories of a tournament in which the Irish failed to showcase their famous fighting spirit.
"Ireland and ourselves are the underdogs in our group, and we're quite close to one another in the rankings. With regard to who is going to win or lose, it's quite open," Hamren told Reuters. Sweden are 35th and Ireland 33rd in the FIFA rankings.
With manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane in charge of Ireland, the clash is likely to be a physical battle but the Swedes are no shrinking violets and the high stakes ensure they will be ready for whatever the Irish throw at them.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Ken Ferris)