By Kimberley Swift

  • Ciaran Clark own goal sees Republic of Ireland held by Sweden
  • England take on Wales in battle of the home nations
  • Northern Ireland face tough second fixture against Ukraine

NICE, FRANCE – Ciaran Clark scored an agonising own goal to deny the Republic of Ireland what would have been a fantastic victory against Sweden on Monday.

Wes Hoolahan opened the scoring in the second half with a delicious half-volley that had Martin O’Neill leaping up and down in joy.

The Irish side were denied the win, however, by Clark’s unfortunate deflection into his own net off Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s low cross. Central defender Clark had a chance to score for his own side after 17 minutes as Ireland came out ready for battle, but his header was just wide.

O’Neill’s men were not short on scoring opportunities early on. Jeff Hendrick saw an attempt palmed away by Andreas Isaksson and later hit the bar with a beautifully struck long-range shot.

Sweden’s best chance in the opening 45 minutes came from veteran captain Ibrahimovic, whose right-footed shot was blocked by Darren Randolph.

After Hoolahan’s wonderful goal sent their fans into raptures, Ireland looked set fair to see out the win. In a cruel twist of fate, Sweden were the ones celebrating as they snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.

The Republic of Ireland go on to face world number two Belgium on Saturday 18th June.

Group Stage 2 – Home Nations show-down

The Three Lions take on the Red Dragons in a hotly anticipated Home Nations encounter on Thursday. Meanwhile Northern Ireland must find a more aggressive style of play against Ukraine to avoid a quick exit.

The threat of defeat by neighbours far better known for their exemplary rugby than their football is not the only portent hanging over England. Preparations to face Wales continue amidst appeals for English supporters to abstain from unwanted violence that could see the team, unthinkably, ejected from the competition.

After failing to close the door on Russia in their opening match, the focus will be on whether key movers Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling can deliver on Thursday. Sterling in particular may be feeling the pressure, while Kane must have half an eye on striker Jamie Vardy waiting in the sidelines to make his international debut.

The Leicester City forward should arguably have been brought on as a substitute against the Russians and may have his chance against Wales if Tottenham’s Kane cannot step up.

Wales, meanwhile, have proven that they are, true to their word, not a one-man team. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey put in a fantastic performance on Saturday and his team’s passion and spirit were evident.

The last meeting between these two nations ended in a 1-0 victory for England in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. England expects a ferocious match and, on the form produced so far, it is not a stretch to pick the Welsh as narrow favourites for Thursday’s 2pm fixture.

Northern Ireland endured a nervy opener culminating in a 1-0 defeat against Poland on Sunday. Michael O’Neill’s side will know that they must play with a more aggressive, attacking attitude if they are to survive the week.

Ukraine were unlucky not to score against Germany, and will view this fixture as a means of establishing themselves in the competition.

In Thursday’s other fixture, defending champions Germany face Poland in Group C at 8pm.
England v Wales: Thursday 16th June 2016, 2pm
Ukraine v Northern Ireland: Thursday 16th June 2016, 5pm
(All times BST).

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