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Ireland give defensive masterclass to hold European champions to a draw in front of 12,000 fans

The women’s national team put in a heroic performance in Nijmegen this evening.

Dutch defender Desiree van Lunteren and Ireland's Harriet Scott.
Dutch defender Desiree van Lunteren and Ireland's Harriet Scott.
Image: Orange Pictures/Rob Koppers/INPHO

The Netherlands 0
Ireland 0

IRELAND’S WOMEN HAVE earned a huge result in their 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign tonight.

Facing the current European champions at the sold-out 12,000-capacity De Goffert Stadion, the Girls in Green put in a immense defensive display and enjoyed a bit of luck to come away with a hard-earned point.

An impressive start to the Group 3 had seen Colin Bell’s side claim two wins on the road — away to Northern Ireland and Slovakia — but this would undoubtedly prove their toughest test against a nation who hadn’t lost a qualifier since October 2013.

Ireland travelled to Nijmegen without several experienced players as Megan Campbell, Aine O’Gorman, Stephanie Roche, Ruesha Littlejohn and Claire Walsh were missing through injury.

Reading’s Sophie Perry came in a right full-back, while the other change meant a return for Karen Duggan with teenager Leanne Kieran dropping to the bench and Amber Barrett leading the line.

Dutch boss Sarina Wiegman started 10 of the starting line-up that defeated Denmark in the Euro 2017 final on home soil back in August, and the Euro 2017 winners also came into the game on maximum points from their first two qualifiers.

Barcelona forward Lieke Martens, who was named Uefa Women’s Player of the Year back in August, began on the left side of a front three.

With a full house behind them, the Netherlands attempted to take control from the off but just three minutes in, McCabe split the opposing defence open with a through-ball from deep and Barrett raced clear.

On this occasion, the Peamount United striker was snuffed out as Stephanie van der Gragt got back to nudge her marker and make a recovering tackle. The 21-year-old was causing all sorts of problems playing off the shoulder of the last defender and had three more chances in the first half but, unfortunately, her finishing let her down.

Down the other end, a goal-line clearance was needed to prevent Ireland from falling behind as Van der Gragt rose highest to head on target from a corner and Tyler Toland booted away.

Holland skipper Sherida Spitse called Marie Hourihan into action for the first time on 19 minutes, but the Ireland goalkeeper got behind the long-distance effort well.

On the half-hour mark, Manchester City stopper blocked a goalbound shot from Desiree van Lunteren and, from the resulting corner, Toland was again well-placed to prevent Martens opening the scoring with a brilliant volley.

Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema cracked a strike off the post before half-time too, but the sides went in scoreless at the break.

Jackie Groenen with Tyler Toland Jackie Groenen of the Netherlands and Ireland's Tyler Toland. Source: Orange Pictures/Rob Koppers/INPHO

Bell made a change at the beginning of the second half by bringing on the fresh legs of Shelbourne’s Leanne Kiernan in place of Barrett, while the Dutch introduced Renate Jansen for Van Lunteren.

The hosts dominated possession again after the interval and Hourihan had to save from Danielle van de Donk, Spitse and Miedema. But this Ireland team are extremely organised under Bell — having recorded seven clean sheets in nine games since the Englishman took over earlier this year — and they continued to stand strong as the minutes ticked down.

Miedema, who has 49 international goals to her name, got on the end of a cross to flick a volley over the bar and then poke wide under pressure from the excellent Louise Quinn.

The home crowd vented their frustrations when the ball hit the hand of Diane Caldwell in the box on 87 minutes, only for Russian referee Anastasia Pustovoitova to wave play on.

And Ireland held out to finish the calendar year level at the top of Group 3 with their latest opponents on seven points.

THE  NETHERLANDS: Sari van Veenendaal; Desiree van Lunteren (Renate Jansen 46), Anouk Dekker, Stephanie van der Gragt, Dominique Janssen; Jackie Groenen, Sherida Spitse (c), Danielle van de Donk (Kike van Es 83); Shanice van de Sanden (Jill Roord 59), Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens.

IRELAND: Marie Hourihan; Sophie Perry, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell, Harriet Scott; Tyler Toland, Niamh Fahey, Karen Duggan, Katie McCabe (c); Denise O’Sullivan, Amber Barrett (Leanne Kiernan 46).

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Ben Blake

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