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Ireland facing into must-win qualifiers in their bid for the big breakthrough

The next fortnight has the potential to define the Euro 2021 qualifying campaign for Vera Pauw’s side.

ireland-players-stand-for-the-national-anthem Niamh Fahey (centre) pictured before Ireland's win against Ukraine at Tallaght Stadium in October. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AFTER ENDURING A Greek tragedy back in November, the Republic of Ireland know that anything less than three points at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night would severely hinder their prospects of qualifying for next year’s European Championships.

Thanks to Amber Barrett’s 13th-minute opener against Greece in Panionios, Vera Pauw’s team were on course to make it three wins from three until they coughed up an equaliser to Anastasia Spyridonidou in the third minute of additional time.

Having already won at home to Montenegro and Ukraine, they remain in second place behind Germany. However, with the most difficult games still to come, there’s a very narrow margin for error during this international window.

The Girls in Green play Greece again in Dublin on Thursday (7.15pm), before heading out to Montenegro in search of another three points the following Wednesday (3.00pm).

“We were gutted about the result over in Greece so we’ll be looking to put that right and cement our spot for second,” says experienced Ireland and Liverpool midfielder/defender Niamh Fahey.

“That game seems like it was ages ago so I’m really looking forward to these two games. They’re both games that we have to win but that’s something to be excited about.”

In spite of their disappointing quarter-final exit at last year’s World Cup, Germany – who have scored 31 goals and conceded none in their four qualifiers to date – are highly unlikely to relinquish top spot in Group I.

Screen Shot 2020-02-28 at 14.09.49 Source: Uefa.com

Ireland will play away against the eight-time European Championship winners next month. A trip to face Ukraine follows in June, before the campaign concludes with September’s visit of the Germans to Dublin.

Finishing second will guarantee Ireland a minimum of a play-off against a second-placed team from one of the other groups. However, if Ireland are one of the three best second-placed sides, they’ll advance automatically to next year’s tournament in England.

With players of the calibre of Denise O’Sullivan, Katie McCabe and Louise Quinn providing a formidable backbone for this Irish side, there’s growing confidence that qualification for a major tournament for the first time is imminent.

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“I have no doubt that it’s going to happen very, very soon,” says Fahey, who’s one of the senior members of the squad at 32. “I’m hoping it’s obviously going to be this tournament because I’m rapidly approaching the end of my career. 

“Let’s just see how things play out in these upcoming games. Nothing is guaranteed so I’m just going to enjoy every game that comes. When the time is right, so be it. I’m fully focused on this campaign for now.”

Vera Pauw will have Áine O’Gorman available for selection for the first time after the Peamount United attacker – who looks likely to be used as a defender if she wins her 101st senior cap – reversed her decision to retire from international football.

Injured duo Megan Campbell and Keeva Keenan are both significant absentees, but Rianna Jarrett is back and the striker should be full of confidence after scoring twice in her Brighton & Hove Albion debut earlier this week. Megan Connolly, Jarrett’s clubmate, is another player who has returned having missed the draw in Greece.

niamh-fahey-with-eleni-markou Eleni Markou of Greece under pressure from Ireland's Niamh Fahey. Source: Greg Hellas/INPHO

There’s also a first call-up for 24-year-old American-born striker Kyra Carusa, who has received Fifa international clearance to represent the country her maternal grandparents hail from.

Last October’s 3-2 win over Ukraine attracted 5,328 spectators, a record for a women’s international at Tallaght Stadium. Another bumper attendance is expected on Thursday, with tickets still available (€10 adults, €5 kids) here.

“The crowd was class for the Ukraine game,” Fahey says. “All the girls were buzzing with atmosphere afterwards. It was the best the atmosphere that we’ve had and you could really tell. It got us going, everyone was up for it. 

“It would be great if we could get the same again this time and make it another great night in Tallaght.” 

Republic of Ireland’s remaining Group I fixtures

  • v Greece – Thursday, 5 March (home)
  • v Montenegro – Wednesday, 11 March (away)
  • v Germany – Saturday, 11 April (away)
  • v Ukraine – Friday, 5 June (away)
  • v Germany – Tuesday, 22 September (home) 

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Paul Dollery

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