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Ireland face must-win clash with Georgia to keep World Cup dream alive

Vera Pauw’s side will be hoping to round off 2021 on a high at Tallaght Stadium tonight.

Ireland players after the Slovakia draw last week.
Ireland players after the Slovakia draw last week.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated Nov 30th 2021, 12:00 PM

AFTER A BUMP in the road last week, it’s on to the next one.

The Republic of Ireland women’s national team welcome Georgia to Tallaght Stadium tonight [KO 7pm, RTÉ Two].

It’s a “must-win” game, as Vera Pauw and her players stressed after the 1-1 draw with Slovakia last week, with three points crucial if Ireland are to keep their World Cup qualification dream alive.

The Girls In Green were held to a 1-1 draw by lower-ranked Slovakia in Tallaght on Thursday night. The result was a disappointing one, feeling like two points dropped rather than one won, though it was certainly a sub-par performance after a promising start to the campaign.

A monumental 2-1 away win over Group A’s second seeds Finland last month had Ireland in a good position, days after their opening 1-0 home defeat to top-ranked Sweden.

With the Swedish heavyweights flying into top spot, the win in Helsinki put Pauw’s side in pole position for second place, where a convoluted, but coveted, play-off route would likely be navigated.

Screenshot 2021-11-29 at 12.40.54 Source: Uefa.

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Ireland will take serious confidence and belief from their performance last night, and from this international window. Building on this solid start and backing it up with maximum points in next month’s double-header is crucial, though.

Two more steps towards the World Cup dream are absolutely key.

- The42, 27 October 2021

On the first time of asking, Ireland didn’t exactly take a big step forward. They avoided disaster, but it’s fair to say that the bid took a hit, with significantly less breathing space and room for error now.

“The more points you are getting now, the more you have a buffer later. If you lose points now, there’s immediately no buffer,” as Pauw said before the Slovakia game.

The Dutch coach had warned about the group’s fourth seeds time and time again, with vast improvements made of late as reflected in their results so far. A team 12 places lower in the Fifa world rankings, Slovakia were a potential banana skin.

That, they certainly proved to be, as Ireland slipped up.

This double-header was the perfect chance to prove themselves against lower-ranked teams, with performing — and delivering — against lesser sides the big challenge. Two occasions to take command, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and play it on their terms.

The jury is still out, with the lack of consistency a concern.

But tonight, they have another chance as Georgia come to town.

Ranked 123rd, 90 places below Ireland, the Georgians are the group’s minnows, yet to record a point. They lost 4-0 away to Sweden, 3-0 at home to Finland, and 2-0 in Slovakia.

It’s a golden opportunity for Ireland to make a statement — and to potentially do so in front of a record crowd. (One was expected on Thursday with over 6,000 tickets sold on the eve of the match, but the official attendance was 5,164 in the end, just short of the existing record of 5,238 from Pauw’s first game against Ukraine in October 2019.)

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Getting back to winning ways and finishing 2021 on a high is of optimal importance, before a massive push next year as the race for qualification hits new heights.

Amidst a string of positive developments off the pitch, it’s important that this team gets back on the upward trajectory they were enjoying, before facing into the mountain they must climb after Thursday night.

It was almost déjà vu of the draw at the death in Athens last campaign, which came back to haunt them, though ultimately, they fell agonisingly short in their bid for Euro 2022 qualification on that heartbreaking night in Kiev.

With the Slovakia away clash next September already shaping up to be a potential second-place showdown, you’d hope history won’t repeat itself.

That’s a long, long way off yet, though, with full focus on the present.

And so, a sixth win under Pauw (her record reads five wins, two draws and eight defeats – albeit most were to higher-ranked opposition in a run of friendlies – from 15 games since she first took charge a little over two years ago) is expected tonight, but nothing’s a given.

As we’ve so often seen with this team — and in football in general.

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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