No Long shot to beat Swedes
Striker says Ireland are the better side but have to prove it in crunch qualifier
SHANE LONG believes that Ireland's World Cup qualifying bid will stand or fall on the result of the game at home to Sweden next month.
With the start of the English Premier League season still some time away, many players are still in pre-season mode and Long is one of those, as he'll be in action for West Brom in a friendly against his old club Cork City in Turner's Cross tonight.
Next weekend the Irish squad will link up at their base in Wales ahead of the friendly against the Welsh in Cardiff, but Long's focus is already on that September 6 date with the Swedes in Dublin.
"I think the game against Sweden will be make or break for our qualifying campaign. I feel that we could have won when we played them away and definitely should have beaten Austria at home. I think we are better than those two teams, we just have to go out and prove it now," said Long ahead of his visit home to Turner's Cross.
"If we could take four points from the home game against Sweden and away to Austria, I think that would be good for us. I still feel that we have a great chance of getting second place in the group, but the Sweden game is massive.
"When we played Sweden away, we had a few chances to win the game, but so did they. When England played them recently, it ended up 4-2, so that shows they are a real danger. So I suppose that it was good that we didn't lose any points in that game.
"Let's just hope those dropped points – against Sweden and Austria – don't come back to haunt us. But this game against Sweden is massive and that is the task at hand that we have to focus on," added Long.
Given his recent troubles with the Ireland set-up, there's no guarantee that Long – despite some impressive displays in the green shirt recently, most notably when he scored against England at Wembley – will get to start against the Swedes.
He also faces uncertainty at club level, with the recent addition of Nicolas Anelka to the West Brom squad leading to even more competition for places up front, with Long forced to accept a sub's role at times last season.
"It was frustrating at times," Long admitted. "The manager had two or three strikers to pick for one starting spot – some weeks it was me, some weeks it was Romelu Lukaku, or Marc-Antoine Fortune, or Markus Rosenberg.
"But every time he made a decision, he talked us through it and why it was the best decision for the team.
"When Romelu scores 17 goals, it's always going to be tough to get in the team ahead of him. But competition makes me better and the manager has told me that I have a big part to play in his plans.
"I just have to work hard and hope that I'm in the starting line-up when we play Southampton," added Long, who is already enjoying the experience of working alongside Anelka.
"When I saw that Anelka had signed for us, I was excited. The best thing about him is that he is such a level-headed guy. You wouldn't know that he has played for Real Madrid and won all of the medals that he has, because he joins in with the lads like everyone else," said the Tipperary man.
"You can see in training how good he is. He hasn't had the career that he's had for no reason. So it will be great to play alongside someone like that and to learn from him too."
As well as getting to know Anelka, Long has used the club's pre-season to have occasional chats with Swedish-born teammate Jonas Olsson about the World Cup game next month.
"Yeah, I've had some banter with Jonas," said Long.
"He was marking me when we played against them last time. They are expected to get second place in the group, so they would be disappointed if they don't get that.
"To be honest, I don't tease him about it because I don't want to get him angry! But it's a friendly rivalry between us."
Long also expects some friendly rivalry in tonight's game against his old club, although his sudden move from Cork City to Reading meant that he had very little game time in the City first team.
"The one game that I played at Turner's Cross was against Bray Wanderers. I came on for the last 10 or 15 minutes, and I think we won 1-0. I didn't get to score, but it was nice to play there and I can't wait to get back there again," he joked.
"Cork gave me my start in professional football and I was treated well during my time there, so I have fond memories of the club and the people there. I also have a lot of friends still playing for them, like Dan Murray, Neal Horgan, Danny Murphy, and Mark McNulty."