Kyle Lafferty's timely equaliser gave Northern Ireland a deserved draw in Sweden and prevented the home side from booking their place at UEFA EURO 2008™.
Defeats in Latvia and Iceland last month had ended Northern Ireland's run at the top of Group F which had begun when they beat Sweden 2-1 in March. Sweden therefore knew a victory would lift them out of the reach of their visitors with two games left and into their fifth consecutive major finals – but Olof Mellberg's early header was cancelled out 18 minutes from time.
The match was only 15 minutes old when the Sweden breakthrough came. Tobias Linderoth's free-kick was flicked on by Kim Källström and defender Mellberg leapt to turn the ball in at the far post. Sweden now gathered momentum and Anders Svensson headed over before Zlatan Ibrahimović made Maik Taylor save. David Healy, the leading scorer in qualifying, had been subdued but on the half-hour his overhead kick went not far above the bar. Christian Wilhelmsson was forced off by injury just before half-time and replaced by Mikael Nilsson.
In the second period Northern Ireland started to dictate play. Lafferty, George McCartney and Steven Davis all threatened in the first three minutes and Chris Brunt's strong shot from outside the area grazed the crossbar. It was Lafferty who eventually levelled the scores as he picked up a long ball, cut into the box by beating two defenders and curled a superb effort beyond Andreas Isaksson.
Källström's late free-kick struck the crossbar and Healy prompted a late save from Isaksson, so leaders Sweden still need a point from next month's trip to Spain or the subsequent visit of Latvia. Northern Ireland will hope Sweden do not lose the first of those fixtures, against second-placed Spain, and must themselves collect maximum points against Denmark and in Spain.