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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Louise Quinn and Katie McCabe were both on the scoresheet (file pic).
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Ireland start and finish strong as Pauw's history-makers end incredible 2022 on a high
Centurion Louise Quinn was one of four goalscorers against Morocco in Marbella.

Republic of Ireland 4

Morocco 0

IRELAND STARTED AND finished with a flourish, as they ended an unforgettable 2022 on a high in Spain.

This international friendly against Morocco was far from the most memorable — mainly due to the lull in between the respective two-goal beginning and ending — but that won’t matter. The 2023 World Cup preparations are well underway.

Louise Quinn fittingly marked her 100th cap with a goal — her 16th overall, and first not with her head — and the Player of the Match award, while Megan Campbell, Katie McCabe and Birthday Girl Kyra Carusa were also on target. Other positives included Courtney Brosnan’s sixth clean sheet in-a-row and teenager Aoibheann Clancy’s debut.

Marbella Football Center was the venue for the Girls In Green’s 10th and final game of a monumental 2022 which yielded historic World Cup qualification; Morocco the opposition.

Vera Pauw’s side faced African opposition with a view to next summer’s group rivals Nigeria (Australia and Canada are also in Group B). Morocco are ranked 76th in world, 52 places below Ireland, and were weakened today but made life difficult for them throughout.

The sides also played a behind-closed-doors game on Friday — a 2-2 draw, with a much-changed Ireland team coming from behind — meaning two more physical battles under the belt. 

Centurion Quinn captained the side, and the XI showed one change from the historic play-off win over Scotland in Hampden: goal-scoring hero Amber Barrett was given her chance up top in the absence of Heather Payne due to college commitments in the USA.

There was just one minute and 30 seconds on the clock when Ireland first rattled the net in front of a small, but vocal, crowd.

The opener came off Campbell’s impressive long throw-in, which so often causes chaos. This one was originally dealt with, but the Liverpool star continued her run to link up well with Denise O’Sullivan and curl in a beautiful left-footed strike — her fourth international goal.

In the seventh minute, the likewise trusty left boot of regular skipper McCabe added another from the spot.

The Arsenal ace won — after a foul by Mazourai Rkia — and dispatched a penalty to double Ireland’s lead. Just about. Zouhair Assia guessed correctly, but McCabe slid it just under the goalkeeper and into the left-hand-side of the net for her 20th goal on her 69th cap.

Her surprised reaction said it all, but onwards, after the perfect start.

Early on, it didn’t look like much of a challenge for Ireland, but that was as good as it got in the first half. O’Sullivan was typically excellent in midfield and Ireland looked to exploit down the right-hand-side, in particular, but the tempo and intensity dropped off as the minutes ticked on.

Morocco’s first real attack came in the 18th minute, Amani Salma pulling the trigger after Ireland were caught on the counter. The defence was exposed after McCabe lost the ball upfield; Quinn helplessly sliding in, but to no avail.

That sloppiness continued, as did the trend of Pauw’s side putting themselves under pressure due to their own mistakes. They dealt well with a string of corners, and the brilliant Lily Agg offered some reprieve with an impressive, largely individual effort which was batted wide on the half-hour mark.

At the other end, Seghir Sabba had a go after an interception on a Brosnan restart, while Bouftini Sofia went in the book for a late challenge on Jamie Finn.

Finn, deployed at right-wing back today, continued on and seemed okay, but made way for 17-year-old Abbie Larkin at the break. Áine O’Gorman dropped back to facilitate the change, having played as a winger of late.

Ireland looked to make a similarly-fast start to the second period. McCabe let fly from a long-range 48th minute free, but Assia did well to tip her shot over the bar. The subsequent corner resulted in a goal-mouth scramble, which Morocco kept out.

Both sides struggled to gain a real foothold on the restart, the stop-start nature of the game certainly not helping. It all turned very scrappy, with the Girls In Green poor in possession and Pauw looking for a triple-substitution on the hour to breathe some life into the game. Clancy won her first cap when she replaced O’Sullivan, while Chloe Mustaki and Carusa were straight swaps for Campbell and Barrett respectively.

Carusa, who turned 27 today, caused problems for the Moroccan defence upon her introduction, but was twice caught by the offside trap; McCabe showed glimpses of her brilliance; and there was momentary worry for Larkin after a head knock, but there was little else to report… until that memorable moment from Quinn.

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Quinn’s 73rd-minute goal came off the back of a McCabe free-kick — bread and butter for this team. The Wicklow woman’s block on Salma’s clearance bizarrely ended up in the back of the net, much to the joy of all in green.

Five minutes later, Carusa joined her on the scoresheet. The lively US-born striker bagged her second international goal through a glancing header after a sublime O’Gorman cross.

Buoyed by that flurry of goals, Ireland finished strong. They were much better in possession and looked back to themselves down the home straight, the game ultimately coming full circle.

McCabe had a hectic finish: a penalty shout, a yellow card — captain Nakkach Elodie Nahla helped off thereafter, rather for her awkward landing — and a missed opportunity.

Larkin, likewise, went close at the death.

But Ireland won’t mind too much. They’ll be happy with their lot, ultimately weathering a storm and easing to another win.

On to 2023. 

IRELAND: Courtney Brosnan; Jamie Finn (Abbie Larkin, HT) ; Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell (Hayley Nolan, 79); Megan Campbell (Chloe Mustaki, 61); Áine O’Gorman, Lily Agg, Denise O’Sullivan (Aoibheann Clancy, 61), Katie McCabe; Amber Barrett (Kyra Carusa, 61).

MOROCCO: Assia Zouhair; Sabbah Seghir, Maryem Atiq, Mrabet Yasmin, Rkia Mazrouai, Nahla Elodie Nakkach (capt) (Ibtissam Bouharat), Sana Daoudi, Sakina Diki Ouzraoui, Sofia Bouftini (Imane Saoud 62), Salma Amani, Anissa Belkasmi.

Referee: Jason Lee Barcelo (Gibraltar).

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