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Ireland held by Slovakia as World Cup qualifying dream takes hit

Katie McCabe scored the equaliser at Tallaght Stadium, as Vera Pauw’s side came from behind.

Katie McCabe was Ireland's goalscorer.
Katie McCabe was Ireland's goalscorer.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 1

Slovakia 1

THE PLAN WAS surely a win in front of a record crowd, making for a night to remember at Tallaght Stadium.

But neither of those things materialised, as the Republic of Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw by Slovakia on one they may well rather forget.

“We can get points off Ireland,” their manager, Peter Kopúň, threatened in the build-up. And he was right, his side frustrating their hosts, as 5,164 fans watched on in the freezing cold.

Beforehand, Vera Pauw targeted “winning — and at least not losing” against the fourth seeds, but it’s fair to say that this result felt like a disappointing one, as Sweden beat Finland 2-1 elsewhere.

Katie McCabe was ultimately Ireland’s hero, the captain — thankfully deemed fit yesterday — levelling matters in the 65th minute, after Martina Surnovská put Slovakia in the lead at the start of the second half.

From the outside, there was plenty of expectation after Ireland’s bright start to the campaign and upward trajectory.

Having fallen agonisingly short in Euro 2022 qualification, Pauw’s side took the hit of a lengthy losing streak against higher-ranked opposition to prepare for the minefield that is Group A.

With significant progress made off the field, results followed and the hit paid off: a 3-2 friendly win over top-class Australia, before a narrow 1-0 home defeat to the world’s second ranked team in Sweden, and then most importantly, a monumental 2-1 away win over second seeds Finland.

That result in Helsinki put the Girls In Green in pole position for second place, at least, sparking the World Cup qualification dream to life. But it was absolutely crucial to build on it against Slovakia and then again against Georgia on Tuesday.

Tonight, they did not. Whether this felt like two points dropped or a one won, they’ve left themselves with work to do.

Pauw went with an unchanged XI, and having already lost several substitute options to injury, surely breathed a sigh of relief with McCabe fit to start.

“It is very close, the teams are not far apart. It’s definitely not a reflection of the ranking list, you will see,” the Dutch coach warned: 12 places separated the two sides yet to reach a major tournament. Ireland won every meeting between them before tonight, but the Slovaks are much improved; also losing 1-0 to Sweden on home soil, beating Georgia 2-0 and falling narrowly to the Finns away.

As always, Heather Payne was electric from the off, wasting no time in getting proceedings underway from kick-off but was stopped in her tracks as both teams took a knee. 

When she officially got going, she was always an outlet up top, chasing down every single ball – hopeless or hopeful – sent her way. Ireland, though, were pretty one-dimensional, opting to go the direct route in most first-half attacks and far from in command.

It was a frantic, scrappy start, as they struggled to stamp their authority on the game. While Slovakia sat deep and off them, Ireland failed to pick them apart. McCabe brought joy down the left, and was targeted from early doors with Andrea Horváthová seeing yellow for hauling her down.

That was to be a common occurrence as they frustrated the hosts, and produced some robust challenges.

denise-osullivan-with-diana-bartovicova-and-maria-mikolajova Denise O'Sullivan on the ball. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But with Ireland playing their usual 5-3-2/3-5-2  they found it difficult to always release the Arsenal star and Áine O’Gorman on the right as wing backs. The midfield trio of Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan and Jamie Finn struggled to gain a real foothold like they did in Helsinki, and that was a problem.

Slovakia’s lone striker, L’udmila Mat’avková 0f Club Brugge, was lively, but Courtney Brosnan dealt accordingly with both of her first-half shots.

While both teams failed to create any real chances early doors, McCabe’s set-piece delivery was always a threat and Ireland started to turn the screw in attack after the half-hour mark.

An O’Gorman cross found the head of Lucy Quinn, but Maria Korenciová easily claimed, while the Irish pair gave Slovakia something to think about down the right just after. Pauw’s side had another effort on target on 40 minutes — Louise Quinn’s downward header from a McCabe corner cleared off the line at the back post — while Payne had a few goes.

You’d imagine Pauw did too at half time, rallying her tigers to pounce like she had demanded before the game. But it was Slovakia who did on the restart. Ireland were caught sleeping as Martina Surnovská turned in Mat’avková’s cross in the 47th minute.

While Ireland looked momentarily headless, they soon found a rhythm again and began threatening. Payne was hauled down in the box and there were calls for a penalty, but the ball was gone at that stage. A trademark McCabe turn made the crowd “Ooh,” and then “Aah,” as she linked up with Payne and O’Sullivan, the latter’s shot blocked down, and Connolly letting fly thereafter.

But the loudest cheer of the game came when the Irish captain slotted home beautifully in the 65th minute after being released by O’Sullivan. It was a cheer mingled with a collective sigh of relief.

Her friend, Horváthová, had a pop at the other end immediately after, but Ireland did what they had failed to do for most of the game and took it by the scruff of the neck from there.

There were some shaky moments, though. Brosnan produced an excellent save to deny Alexandra Bíróová, and shortly after, her touch let her down but Louise Quinn was there to save the day with a goal-line clearance, denying Laura Zemberyová. Finn, who moved to right-back after Ruesha Littlejohn’s arrival for O’Gorman, also had to make a vital interception with her face, with Niamh Fahey also solid.

At the other end, the lively Littlejohn sent an excellent ball across the face of the goal, but no one could turn it in. Ireland threw defenders forward, and Slovakia huffed and puffed as they tried to keep them out — but not only did they hold on for dear life, they continued to ride their luck and pose a threat going forward.

Then, they resorted to time-wasting. Ireland clutched at anything going, including a fruitless penalty call down the home straight, but they had to settle for just one point.

And luckily so, in the grand scheme of things.

Republic of Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Savannah McCarthy; Áine O’Gorman (Ruesha Littlejohn 70), Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan, Jamie Finn, Katie McCabe; Lucy Quinn (Kyra Carusa, 84), Heather Payne.

Slovakia: Maria Korenciová; Andrea Horvathova, Alexandra Bíróová (Diana Lemesová, 70), Patricia Fischerová, Diana Bartovicová, Jana Vojteková; Dominika Skorvánková, Maria Mikolajová, Martina Surnovská (Laura Zemberyová, 65) , Patricia Hmírová; L’udmila Mat’avková (Kristina Panáková, 87).

Referee: Jelena Cvetkovic (Serbia).

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy  / Reports from Tallaght Stadium.

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