MIDFIELDER Seb Larsson believes Sunderland team-mate James McClean is a threat to Sweden in tonight’s crunch World Cup qualifier, despite the winger’s struggle for form this season.
McClean could be handed his first competitive start for the Republic of Ireland in Stockholm tonight after indications in training this week that boss Giovanni Trapattoni will turn to the Black Cats wideman.
The 23-year-old, who has not started a top flight game for Sunderland since January, has been unable to reach the heights of his breakthrough campaign on Wearside this year.
But Larsson, expected to win his 52nd cap for Sweden, still recognises McClean as a major threat in the meeting of the two main challengers to Germany in Qualification Group C.
“Everyone saw when he came in last year what he can do,” said Larsson.
“Lots of people have said that he had a tough year, but we have all had a tough time at Sunderland this season.
“He is a raw talent and you should not take it away from him.
“To get the best out of him, he must be allowed to do his thing.”
McClean’s off-the-field controversy has only prompted further scrutiny of the former Derry City man’s form.
A spat with Unionist MP Gregory Campbell saw McClean close down his Twitter account, yet Larsson believes he will learn from the experience.
The midfielder said: “I know that he has received attention for some different reasons, but that sometimes happens when you’re in the spotlight.
“You have to get used to it and learn from it.”
Ireland lie just a point behind Sweden in Group C, with the latter three adrift of leaders Germany, who have played an extra game.
While Germany, who travel to Kazakhstan tonight, will be firm-favourites to emerge as group winners, Ireland and Sweden lead the race to finish as runners-up and enter the qualification play-offs for a spot at next year’s World Cup, in Brazil.
Larsson added: “If you want to catch Germany at the top, you cannot drop points.
“Ireland are a team that will fight until the very end. They will be compact, at least while they are not behind, and they will not give us anything for free.”
Stand-in Sunderland skipper John O’Shea is expected to lead out Ireland, although back-up Black Cats keeper Keiren Westwood is set to be on the bench, with Millwall’s David Forde favourite to start in goal.