Whelan was key to keeping Ibrahimovic at bay, says Kilbane

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan

The former Republic of Ireland midfielder has backed Martin O'Neill's men to progress from Group E after an impressive performance against Sweden.

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Republic of Ireland's Glenn WhelanSweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan

Glenn Whelan was the secret behind the Republic of Ireland's impressive efforts to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay during the 1-1 draw with Sweden, according to BBC Sport pundit Kevin Kilbane, who has backed his former side to beat Italy and progress to the knockout stages of Euro 2016. 

An impressive performance saw Ireland dominate for much of the first half of Monday's game in Paris, with Sweden's talismanic striker Ibrahimovic largely failing to make an impact ahead of Wes Hoolahan's opener. 

Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan in action with Sweden's Zlatan IbrahimovicRepublic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan in action with Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The striker did have a role in forcing defender Ciaran Clark to head into his own net in a rejuvenated display after the break, but Kilbane was nevertheless impressed by the Stoke City star, hailing him as the key man in neutralising Ibrahimovic's influence on the game. 

"It was Glenn Whelan who locked onto Zlatan and prevented any supply, that was why he was quiet in the first half," said the former Ireland international after the game.

"He was dropping deeper and deeper because he wasn't getting involved in play – but he did make an impact in the penalty box in the second half."

Republic of Ireland's Hoolahan scoresRepublic of Ireland's Hoolahan scores

Whelan's display is likely to see him touted as the key man again when Ireland take on Belgium in Bordeaux on Saturday, as Martin O'Neill's men look to put the pain of four years ago - where they lost all three group games - behind them. 

And Kilbane was quick to hail the resilience of Ireland's efforts in their Group E opener, but admits they could have shown more in the final third in order to seal the win.

"They got the goal, a brilliant goal from Wes Hoolahan, but then played too deep, went on the back foot and there was a bit more urgency from Sweden," he said. 

Sweden's Zlatan IbrahimovicSweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Despite the positive performance, Ireland will be well aware that there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly in light of Italy's impressive 2-0 win over heavily fancied Belgium. 

But Kilbane is adamant that O'Neill's side have enough about them to use the draw as a platform to build on, backing them to overcome Antonio Conte's men and qualify for the knockout stages.

"As Sweden were coming into it you just thought Ireland had to make sure they didn't lose – and now they are still in it. They can beat Italy and qualify," he said.

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