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Ireland open World Cup qualifying campaign on losing note against Sweden

An unfortunate own goal was ultimately the difference as 4,017 fans watched on at Tallaght Stadium.

Ireland's Denise O'Sullivan and Filippa Angeldal of Sweden.
Ireland's Denise O'Sullivan and Filippa Angeldal of Sweden.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0

Sweden 1

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland opened their 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign on a losing note, falling just short as a first-half own goal gave Sweden – one of the world’s top teams – a 1-0 win at Tallaght Stadium.

The nature of the loss will, of course, be disappointing for Vera Pauw’s side, as they produced a battling defensive performance, and did their utmost to hold firm, but Sweden undoubtedly showed their class.

Ireland belatedly kicked off their campaign — and fresh bid to reach a first-ever major tournament — against Group A’s top seeds, before facing the second ones, Finland, in Helsinki on Tuesday.

With all available 4,000 tickets snapped up, this was billed a sell-out show amidst Covid restrictions, just hours before sports stadia on these shores return to full capacity. 17 extra fans watched on; with a real feel-good factor around this team.

A recent win over Australia, the last of a series of friendlies against higher-ranked opposition, marked the end of a seven-game losing streak and ensured any lingering Euro 2022 qualification disappointment was put to bed; providing a welcome boost ahead of a new qualifying campaign. It also came after several positive off-field developments.

No secrets were made about how tough this clash was going to be: Sweden are second in Fifa’s world rankings, Ireland are 33rd. Runners-up at this summer’s Olympic Games, they’ve qualified for every World Cup since 1991 and are also European Championship regulars. In the six times the sides had played before tonight, Sweden won five times and scored 22 goals, there was one draw and Ireland scored once.

Manager Peter Gerhardsson was missing legendary captain Caroline Seger through injury, but the squad that came to Dublin was simply star-studded.

For Ireland, Brighton & Hove Albion star Megan Connolly returned, in one change to the XI that saw off the Matildas, with English-born Lucy Quinn and Galway’s Savannah McCarthy making their first competitive starts.

As expected, Pauw’s side were under the cosh from the get-go, as Sweden flexed their considerable attacking prowess. Stena Blackstenius was their obvious dangerwoman, the goal-hungry number 11 causing the hosts serious problems throughout.

Courtney Brosnan was kept busy in the Irish goal, and dealt with all threats accordingly; the call had been debated all week, but the Everton goalkeeper certainly justified her selection, and was named Sky Player of the Match.

The Girls In Green played with 10 behind the ball for most of the first half – despite their 1-5-4-1 formation – Heather Payne cutting a lonely figure up top as she was left to chase any long balls sent up-field. Sweden were utterly dominant, piling on the pressure as they went up through the gears. They looked to pull Ireland wide, and then get the ball into the box.

While the hosts defended as a unit, they struggled to make any solid progress in attack, and unforced errors let them down at times. Captain Katie McCabe tested the waters early on and her long-range effort whistled by the right post, but in truth, that was as close as Ireland came in the first half, and the Arsenal star slipped into a more defensive role.

They were perhaps let off the hook 20 minutes in; Jamie Finn’s last-ditch tackle on Blackstenius waved on. Just after, the lively Lina Hurtig was hauled down on the edge of the area, but referee Deborah Anex again didn’t intervene.

Nothing came off a pair of McCabe set-pieces afterwards, before Brosnan produced a stunning save to send a Filippa Angeldal effort over the bar; the Manchester City midfielder given plenty of time to pull the trigger.

As half time approached, Ireland looked to push on, getting more bodies up the field. Payne continued to hassle and harry up top, her pace testing Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson – who was superb – as she sent a ball into the box for McCabe.

It proved to be the downfall, as just after, Sweden got the opening goal they had been pushing for. It was a really unfortunate one to concede, and goes down as a Louise Quinn OG in the 39th minute. Who else, but Blackstenius did the damage down the left; Savannah McCarthy slipping, and her cross deflecting off Quinn, leaving Brosnan with no chance.

Chants of “Ireland, Ireland” rang out immediately after, the task now to hold firm. They did that until the break; McCabe returning to the pitch and signalling to adoring young fans to get louder.

She, and another standout star in Denise O’Sullivan, provided a few moments of magic in the second half, but Sweden continued to dominate. Frustrated at times, all the same, they saw two yellow cards in quick succession, and didn’t have it all their own way as Lucy Quinn swept a shot across goal.

Brosnan pulled off a brilliant save in the 66th minute to deny Blackstenius, and after a brief interim down getting treatment, the Toffees ‘keeper did well to keep an effort from Barcelona star Fridolina Rolfo out.

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lucy-quinn-reacts-to-a-missed-chance Ireland's Denise O'Sullivan and Filippa Angeldal of Sweden. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Pauw looked to Leanne Kiernan and Amber Barrett to inject some attacking intent from the bench. Kiernan proved a bright spark, bringing her impressive club form at Liverpool to her country. There were calls for penalties at either end in the 82nd minute; O’Sullivan going to ground in one box, and Blackstenius in the other.

The Girls In Green were flagged offside several times down the home straight, as they threw the kitchen sink at it with stalwart defender Quinn sent up top.

Saoirse Noonan was catapulted in for her debut, with more last-ditch calls for penalties as the clock ran down, but 0-1 was how it would end. On a sour note, unfortunately, with O’Sullivan injured late on.

Onwards to Helsinki, though.

Ireland: Courtney Brosnan; Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Savannah McCarthy; Katie McCabe, Áine O’Gorman; Jamie Finn (Leanne Kiernan 74), Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan; Lucy Quinn (Saoirse Noonan, 93), Heather Payne (Amber Barrett 74).

Sweden: Hedvig Lindahi; Jonna Andersson, Magdalena Eriksson, Amanda Ilestedt, Hanna Glas; Filippa Angeldal, Fridolina Rolfo, Hanna Bennison (Julia Zigiotti Olme 76); Lina Hurtig (Olivia Schuh 61), Stina Blackstenius, Sofia Jakobsson (Nilla Foscher 89).

Referee: Deborah Anex (SUI).

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey discuss Ireland’s squad, women’s rugby reviews, and the Tadhg Beirne incident on The42 Rugby Weekly:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Emma Duffy  / reports from Tallaght Stadium

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