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Much-changed Ireland fall just short to higher-ranked Russia at Pinatar Cup

An early goal proved the difference as Vera Pauw’s side were beaten 1-0 in the semi-final in La Manga.

16-year-old Abbie Larkin made her senior international debut tonight.
16-year-old Abbie Larkin made her senior international debut tonight.
Image: Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0

Russia 1

THE PINATAR CUP was always about the bigger picture, but the Republic of Ireland fell agonisingly short of reaching the final tonight.

Vera Pauw said she would field ‘a completely different team’ against Russia, after their 2-1 come-from-behind quarter-final win over Poland — and that’s exactly what she did, with player development the focus in in La Manga, Spain.

As preparations ramp up for the resumption of the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign in April, the Girls In Green can certainly be proud of their efforts against another higher-ranked nation (Russia are 25th in the world, six places ahead of Ireland).

Russia’s seventh-minute goal — scored by Elizaveta Lazareva — was the difference on a rainy and windy night, in which a new-look XI was tried and tested, leaving Pauw with plenty of food for thought.

Liverpool goal-scoring star Leanne Kiernan was a certain bright spark; dangerous every time she got on the ball as she bids to play a bigger part in Ireland’s quest to reach a first-ever major tournament. Brighton & Hove Albion goalkeeper Megan Walsh and Shelbourne star Chloe Mustaki also impressed on their Ireland senior debuts.

They were two of three players making their international bows; 16-year-old Reds star Abbie Larkin the other. But it was Mustaki, returning from a two-year hiatus due to a cruciate ligament setback, who stole the show in a Player of the Match performance.

Injury and Covid-19 ruled five players out of the squad, with Megan Campbell withdrawn on medical advice as she manages her load following her recent return. Reading goalkeeper Grace Moloney (shoulder) and Heather Payne (groin) were also absent from the matchday 22.

The opener arrived with seven minutes on the clock, after Lazareva finished off a nice Russian move down the right. Walsh did well to stop Nelli Korovkina’s original shot after Ekaterina Pantiukhina’s ball in, but Lazareva made no mistake with her tap-in.

Russia kept the pressure on thereafter, keeping Walsh busy from set-pieces, in particular, but the English-born ‘keeper dealt accordingly with all thrown her way.

Captain for the night, Diane Caldwell was rock-solid in defence while Mustaki made some vital interceptions through a big shift, both thriving as the game turned into a scrap.

But Ireland did their utmost not to get dragged in, and settled into playing better football.

The chances started coming either side of the half-hour mark; Larkin first sending a tame shot towards Russian ‘keeper Iulia Grichenko after good work from Ellen Molloy in the build-up, before Kiernan and Amber Barrett saw decent efforts go just over in the minutes which followed.

Larkin, like Kiernan, was lively throughout, asking questions of the defence, though the lack of exposure at senior international level did show at times.

Both goalkeepers produced stunning saves as half-time approached; Walsh first pulling one off with her feet, before Grichenko tipped an audacious, floated effort from Kiernan over the bar. From the subsequent corner, Caldwell had a header go just wide.

leanne-kiernan Kiernan impressed tonight. Source: Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

“I’ll tell you, the kids are bossing it out there,” as an Irish voice was heard saying over the live stream at the interval, with several other interesting insights picked up throughout, including Pauw asking Barrett to play “Megan Connolly’s role” at one stage.

The boss explored other options thereafter; Ruesha Littlejohn replacing Barrett, and Jess Ziu coming in for Izzy Atkinson for the second period, which never really caught fire.

Molloy lit it up at times with some moments of individual brilliance, before Katie McCabe, Denise O’Sullivan and Kyra Carusa added fresh legs just after the hour-mark.

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While McCabe and O’Sullivan, in particular, added class, Ireland found it hard to break Russia down. Walsh was excellent at the other end, extinguishing any threats and producing some brilliant saves. The closest they came, otherwise, was when Marina Fedorova’s shot was deflected and bobbled across the face of the goal.

Kiernan limped off in the closing stages after colliding with Grichenko in pursuit of a long-ball into the box from McCabe, but the Cavan woman can be happy with her industrious showing, having bided her time for a starting opportunity under Pauw.

Her replacement, Lucy Quinn, had an effort sail over down the home straight, in which Russia wasted time and Ireland’s frustration shone through, but they had to settle for a narrow 1-0 defeat.

While missing out on a final berth, Pauw’s side will play Wales in a third-place play-off in La Manga on Tuesday, but the big focus is the important qualifier away to all-conquering Sweden on 12 April.

Republic of Ireland: Megan Walsh; Diane Caldwell, Claire Walsh, Chloe Mustaki; Áine O’Gorman (Katie McCabe, 65), Amber Barrett (Ruesha Littlejohn, HT), Jamie Finn, Ellen Molloy (Denise O’Sullivan, 65), Isibeal Atkinson (Jess Ziu, HT); Leanne Kiernan (Lucy Quinn, 83), Abbie Larkin (Kyra Carusa, 65).

Russia: Julia Grichenko; Anna Belomyttseva, Kristina Mashkova, Elina Samoilova, Alsu Abdullina; Lina Iakupova, Tatiana Petrova, Elizaveta Lazareva, Marina Fedorova, Ekaterina Pantiukhina, Nelli Korovkina.

Referee: Zuzana Valentová (Slovakia).

BTL 5

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