Ireland’s Lily Agg reacts after missing a chance. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
talking point

Ireland facing relegation as bold attacking gamble fails to pay dividends

Eileen Gleeson’s side have now gone five games without a win.

IRELAND LOOK set to face Nations League relegation to League B, after a 3-0 defeat in this evening’s Euro 2025 qualifier against Sweden, but they certainly didn’t die wondering.

A brave approach from the Irish team did not work out as hoped, meaning an attendance of 22,868 were left disappointed in the women’s team’s third-ever match at the Aviva Stadium.

Boss Eileen Gleeson had spoken of the need for her side to be “assertive and aggressive” in the pre-match press conference and the team backed up these words in the game’s opening stages.

The Girls in Green had been disappointingly passive at the outset of their last home qualifier and Gleeson made five changes from the starting XI that lost 2-0 to England.

Three were enforced, with Heather Payne, Denise O’Sullivan and Ruesha Littlejohn out injured, while Lucy Quinn and Aoife Mannion dropped to the bench.

Some eyebrows were raised, however, as the starting XI was a noticeably attacking lineup for this must-win qualifier.

It was a rare instance against top-calibre opposition of the Irish team beginning with two out-and-out strikers as Amber Barrett was given a surprise start alongside Kyra Carusa.

In the absence of O’Sullivan, Lily Agg came into the team and was the most advanced of the midfielders, playing almost as a number 10 at times.

Megan Connolly and Jessie Stapleton occupied the deeper midfield roles, with Katie McCabe and Jessica Ziu filling the wing-back slots.

Meanwhile, the backline was as expected, with Louise Quinn, Caitlin Hayes, Anna Patten and Courtney Brosnan all retaining their places.

This bold approach had the potential to go awry, but in contrast to the England game where they were 2-0 down after 18 minutes, Ireland started promisingly.

In an exciting first half, Barrett might have finished better on more than one occasion, while Agg was equally frustrated as she turned a shot inches wide of the post.

Yet the inevitable downside of such an attacking approach is how vulnerable it can leave teams at the back and the hosts made it all too easy for Sweden’s opener.

Ireland were badly caught out on the counter with a lack of defensive cover, as Johanna Rytting Kaneryd was given too much space and made no mistake with the clinical finish.

From this point onwards, the momentum shifted significantly.

Perhaps feeling they were performing better than the scoreline suggested, the frustration was evident in some of the Irish players’ body language — an exasperated Katie McCabe threw her hands up in the air on more than one occasion, while Barrett’s anger with herself was obvious as she headed over the bar from close range.

Sweden, by contrast, missed a host of good chances. Last-ditch challenges on either side of the break from Hayes and Ziu prevented near-certain goals, while Brosnan made a good save to deny Fridolina Rolfo who found herself through on goal.

The same player did not make the same mistake again, as Ireland were caught on the counter minutes later. The Barcelona attacker was afforded far too much space after a quick break and this time curled expertly into the far corner.

The midfield alteration that saw Blackburn’s Tyler Toland replace Stapleton could not stem the waves of Swedish attacks.

And as the game entered its final 20 minutes, Gleeson made further changes — Leanne Kiernan, Aoife Mannion and Megan Campbell replaced Agg, Patten and Carusa.

Campbell’s introduction, in particular, drew excitement in the crowd, as the London City Lionesses defender’s long-throw-ins gave the team’s attack another dimension.

But it was too little too late as Sweden saw out the win with relative ease and added a third late on with another clinical counter — the influential Rytting Kaneryd converted on the rebound after Matilda Vinberg’s initial effort was saved. 

Of course, anything other than defeat against the side ranked sixth in the world would have been unexpected.

But it was the first time the sides met since a memorable 1-1 away draw in Göteborg helped Ireland secure World Cup qualification in 2022.

It was a much more pragmatic performance on that occasion, and since the Gleeson era began, this Irish team has made no secret of their desire to evolve into a more formidable attacking unit.

Six wins on the trot suggested they were moving in the right direction and those results were enough to land Gleeson the permanent manager’s job.

But after five matches without a win — admittedly against much tougher opponents — it is clear they remain a work in progress and not quite good enough yet for the highest level of international football.

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