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Things to get worse for Sunderland's Irish trio
SUNDERLAND'S Irish contingent can focus on something other than the club's relegation fight this week, but Seb Larsson has warned that their worries are only likely to increase.
Larsson is gearing up for Sweden's World Cup qualifier with the Republic of Ireland on Friday night when he will face Black Cats team-mates John O'Shea, James McClean and Kieren Westwood.
All four players were involved in the Sunderland match-day 18 that could only draw with Norwich City on Sunday, despite the Canaries playing with ten men for more than an hour of the game.
The result has heightened concerns about a possible drop in to the Football League, with just four points separating them from the bottom three ahead of a tough final eight fixtures.
The next four – against Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton – are enough to worry some of the best players in the world, so a two week international break could be the ideal way to forget about Premier League problems.
But Larsson has warned O'Shea in particular that he has another big thing to concentrate on this Friday – when he comes up against Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“I’m sure John knows all about how good Zlatan is, but I’ll mention if he’s on form he’ll be in for a tough game,” said Larsson.
“For me, Zlatan is one of the top four/five strikers in Europe, but obviously I’ve seen him a lot and played with him a lot, maybe a lot more than people have over here.
“I think in England people have only recently started to realise how good he is and what he’s capable of from the goal he scored against England. For that type of striker, he is one of a kind, big, strong and mobile and if he’s on form he makes us into different team there’s no doubt about that.”
The build-up to the qualifier has already started and Ireland know only too well that they need to avoid defeat to keep up the pressure on the two countries ahead of them in qualifying Group C: Sweden and Germany.
Larsson said: “The banter has started with James, John and Keiren a little bit, but not too much yet. We’ve had our hands full with the games here. But we’ve mentioned it a few times and it will be nice to play against some of my team-mates.”
With a point separating Ireland from second-placed Sweden, there is a lot riding on the international when the two teams meet in the Friends Arena in Stockholm, where there is a dispute over whether the roof should be closed on Friday night.
“We’re both chasing the top spot, that’s what we’re going to try to do, but realistically Germany are massive favourites to take that top spot as I think they have done for the last however many qualifying campaigns,” said Larsson.
“Of course, it’s a massive game for both teams, we’ve both had a fairly decent start to the campaign and for us to be at home if we can beat Ireland we’re right in the mix.
“It would be a dream to play in the World Cup, of course, and we’ve got a good chance of getting there and we’ve got to try to grab it with both hands.
“I’ve been involved in the European Championships twice, but the World Cup is something different. It’s the biggest tournament you could be involved in so it would be very good.”
Sunderland's plight in the Premier League has led to manager Martin O'Neill admitting that the summer is likely to be another close-season of change.
He has spent more than £30m in the three transfer windows since taking over Steve Bruce in December 2011, but feels his squad is still short of “true quality”.
And yesterday it emerged he has already informed two of the club's most promising academy graduates that they will not be staying at the Stadium of Light beyond this season.
Hartlepool United have been put on alert after striker Ryan Noble, who has had loan stints at Victoria Park, was told he will be released despite banging in the goals over the years at reserve team level.
Pools could also be interested in Hartlepool-born midfielder Adam Reed after a decision was taken not to extend his stay.
Ben Wilson, Anthony Callagahan and Wade Joyce will all be leaving too, while Craig Lynch is among those to be given new terms.
Lynch, who has recently had trials in Holland, has been retained along with Billy Knott, Joel Dixon, John Egan, David Ferguson, Alejandro Gorrin, Jordan Laidler, Liam Marrs, Adam Mitchell, Connor Oliver and Jordan Watson.
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