Kalle Parkkinen/INPHO Denise O'Sullivan celebrates her winner.
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O'Sullivan the matchwinner as Pauw's Ireland claim massive victory in Finland
The Girls In Green came out on top of a crucial World Cup qualifying clash in Helsinki.

Finland 1

Republic of Ireland 2

THIS MAY OR may not have been a must-win game, but it certainly was a must-not-lose one.

But not only did the Republic of Ireland avoid defeat against Group A’s second seeds, they secured a massive victory and leave Finland with three points in the bag.

It was ‘The Game’ of the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign, according to Vera Pauw — and will most certainly go down as The Result, should all else go to plan from here in the bid to reach a first-ever major tournament.

The simply outstanding Denise O’Sullivan proved the matchwinner, her 56th-minute tap-in adding to Megan Connolly’s stunning 10th minute free-kick and cancelling out Adelina Engman’s equaliser. The Cork connection most certainly came up trumps, O’Sullivan thankfully fit after serious injury doubts.

After a 1-0 opening defeat to the group’s top seeds, Sweden, last week, Finland were next up for the Girls In Green at an electric Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

Anna Signeul’s side are ranked 25th in the world, eight places above Ireland, having recently qualified for Euro 2022. Before tonight, Ireland had clashed with The Helmarit, or Borreal Owls, five times, winning one, drawing once and losing three times.

This victory will certainly be their most important; Finland having enjoyed the perfect start to their campaign before tonight.

Vera Pauw went with an unchanged XI from Sweden game, though there were some positional changes with captain Katie McCabe reverting to left-back, Áine O’Gorman – earning her 110th cap – back on the right, and Jamie Finn pushing on to midfield.

Finland threatened first, with Linda Sällström and Emmi Alanen central to early nervy moments for the visitors, but the script soon flipped. McCabe and O’Sullivan were at the heart of Irish attacks as they got on the front foot and caused the Finns serious problems.

A McCabe corner was cleared off the line by Anna Westerlund in the seventh minute; the Finland defence rocked at times as Ireland enjoyed a sustained period of pressure, which soon paid dividends.

Heather Payne won a free kick on the edge of the box, after a Ria Öling handball. With McCabe, Lucy Quinn and Connolly standing over the ball, this was the perfect opportunity in the 10th minute — and one which Connolly grabbed with both hands, sending a superb strike past long-serving captain and Tottenham goalkeeper Tinja-Riika Korpela:

While Ireland enjoyed the dream start and looked to build from there, Finland grew into the game more and more as it turned into a more physical contest. Natalia Kuikka was a (Portland) Thorn in Ireland’s side through a series of corners delivered by Tuija Hyyrynen — set-pieces a certain strength of the Finns’ — while Sällström always looked dangerous.

The Girls In Green’s work-rate, tenacity and doggedness was through the roof; Player of the Match O’Sullivan, as always, epitomising their fight around the middle, but they struggled to create much going forward as the half went on.

The excellent Jamie Finn had a header on target off the back of a McCabe ball into the box in the 38th minute, but it was the Finns, plural, who looked more like scoring as half time approached.

Sällström was played in by Engman, and while she was deemed offside, Courtney Brosnan did well to keep her out. On 45 minutes, alarm bells certainly rung when the Everton goalkeeper was caught well out of her goal, but thankfully Finland didn’t act quickly enough with Hyyrynen’s long-range effort eventually sailing over the bar.

There were worrying scenes a few minutes into the second half; McCabe down injured after a collission. With Ireland down to 10 as the Arsenal star received treatement on the sideline, things went from bad to worse as the hosts levelled matters after attacking down her side. Engman was the goal-scorer in the 52nd minute, after being picked out by Hyyrynen. The former Chelsea player, too, was the guilty party for McCabe’s setback, but the Irish skipper was soon back in action.

tuija-hyyrynen-with-katie-mccabe Kalle Parkkinen / INPHO Katie McCabe gets past Finland's Tuija Hyyrynen. Kalle Parkkinen / INPHO / INPHO

There were a few heart-in-the-mouth moments as Ireland looked to weather the storm, but four minutes after the equaliser, Ireland hit the front once again with O’Sullivan’s 13th goal for her country. After great work from O’Gorman and a Payne cross, the North Carolina Courage star capitalised on a Korpela drop to bundle home and make it 2-1 in the 56th minute.

McCabe shook off continued close attention from Engman, and had a couple of good efforts, while Emma Koivisto was among those to go close at the other end.

Down the home straight, Ireland had their backs to the wall for the most part, and were forced to dig deep. Finn saw yellow as the challenges flew in, while Rianna Jarrett was called to action, having been absent from the matchday squad last week.

Pauw’s side were desperate to hold their lead, Signeul’s craving an equaliser. Brosnan was solid between the posts as the clock ran down, confident and assured despite one nervy moment where Niamh Fahey stepped in to keep Finland out.

Savannah McCarthy headed all and everything clear, while Payne did her utmost to get Ireland up the pitch and relieve some pressure through four minutes of injury time.

The Florida State University ace ran her heart out to get backfield too, one of many to produce last-ditch tackles with all hands on deck to ensure it ended 2-1.

That it did; a massive result on the road secured. And breathe…

Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Áine O’Gorman, Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Savannah McCarthy, Katie McCabe; Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan, Jamie Finn; Lucy Quinn (Rianna Jarrett 75), Heather Payne.

Finland: Tinja-Riika Korpela; Tuija Hyyrynen, Anna Westerlund, Natalia Kuikka, Emma Koivisto; Adelina Engman, Emmi Alanen, Eveliina Summanen, Ria Öling (Essi Sainio 86); Sanni Franssi, Linda Sällström (Amanda Rantanan 89).

Referee: Alexandra Collin (France).


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