Lafferty strike denies Swedes
Northern Ireland kept alive their faint hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 after securing a 1-1 draw against Sweden.
By James Pearson
Last Updated: 18/10/07 9:41am
Northern Ireland kept alive their faint hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 after securing a 1-1 draw against Sweden in Stockholm.
Nigel Worthington's side really needed to beat the Swedes to maintain a realistic chance of qualifying, although he will be very pleased with their performance.
Despite a lively start it was Sweden who took the lead when Olof Mellberg arrived on time to guide Tobias Linderoth's free-kick home at the back post.
Sweden were happy to sit back and defend their advantage, although that tactic proved costly as the visitors snatched a late share of the spoils.
The lively Kyle Lafferty got the better of Petter Hansson before curling a superb right-footed effort past Andreas Isaksson's hand into the top corner.
Mellberg openerThe hosts took the lead in the 15th minute when Mellberg opened the scoring with a volley after a flick-on from Kim Kallstrom.
Northern Ireland almost equalised two minutes later when David Healy rattled in a free-kick only for Andreas Isaksson to prevent him scoring his 13th goal of the campaign.
Northern Ireland were grateful to goalkeeper Maik Taylor for preventing a second goal in the 28th minute. He made a superb block as Zlatan Ibrahimovic rattled in a shot from close range following a clever through ball from Kallstrom.
Northern Ireland were refusing to lie down, and Healy's overhead kick in the 31st minute narrowly cleared the bar after he had been set up by Lafferty.
However, a mistake by Gareth McAuley in the 36th minute almost proved costly. The Leicester captain mis-directed a pass to Ibrahimovic, and the striker wasted no time in setting up Johan Elmander - who seemed surprised at finding an opening and clipped his effort wide of the post.
The last thing the province needed was to be handing gifts to the home side, who have become notoriously difficult opponents over the years.
Healy was putting in a hard shift - but after scoring twice against the hosts earlier in the campaign, the Fulham striker was closely marked.
Almost for Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland almost drew level in the 60th minute when Chris Brunt's 25-yard effort went narrowly over the top, following a short free kick from Sammy Clingan.
Given they were behind and heading for a third straight defeat, Northern Ireland were still playing with confidence.
Healy tested Isaksson in the 63rd minute, the Manchester City goalkeeper getting down quickly to smother his effort in a front of a crowd of 33,112.
Northern Ireland were being backed by about 2,000 fans - getting right behind their side.
Sweden were playing possession football, and that did not suit their supporters who wanted a second goal.
Instead, it was Northern Ireland who equalised through Lafferty.
Sweden almost regained the lead in the 84th minute, Kallstrom's sweetly struck free-kick hitting the outside of the post - and Ibrahimovic should have scored the winner on the stroke of full-time but sent a free header wide of the post.
|Sweden||Team Statistics||Northern Ireland|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||4|
|7||Shots off Target||8|