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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 10 April 2021


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Here we go, it’s almost time for arguably the biggest game in Irish women’s football history. Monumental, decisive, crucial, vital; it’s all those things. The bottom line is a result is needed.

The Girls In Green face Ukraine in a crunch qualifier in Kyiv, with it all to play for. It’s simple: avoid defeat and it’s on to the Euro 2022 playoffs, at least. One step closer to achieving the dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament.

A win or a draw will also keep Ireland in contention for automatic qualification for the finals tournament in England. But we won’t get too carried away just yet. It’s all about today, this “cup final” at Obolon Arena, with second seeds Ukraine proving tough, tough opposition.

Kick-off is 5pm and the game is live on RTÉ Two, but as always, we’ll keep you up to date right here.

We’ll go through everything else you need to know as our pre-match build-up continues right up until kick-off, but first, here’s a look at the starting team Pauw has selected.

As expected, West Ham’s Courtney Brosnan starts in goal after injury forced Marie Hourihan out. Reading’s Grace Moloney might feel hard done by here, considering her stellar club form. Two further changes to the XI that started against Germany: Leanne Kiernan and Niamh Fahey drop to the bench, Harriet Scott and Heather Payne start.



FAI Source: FAI.

And here’s the Ukraine side they’ll face.

Iryna Sanina starts between the posts after their first-choice shot-stopper Kateryna Samson — who was there for their only major tournament appearance at Euro 2009 — tested positive for Covid-19. Atletico Madrid’s Natiya Pantsulaya, whose own goal proved the winner when these sides last met, starts at left-back, but one of their goalscorers at the right end in her clubmate Olha Ovdiychuk is absent.

Daryna Apanaschenko, their captain wearing 17, is one of their main threats.


ukraine Source: UAF Women's Football.

Pauw is talking about this “key game” on RTÉ two now, and how her side plan to use a different approach today. “We need to have pressure forward,” she says, explaining the tactical decision behind Liverpool captain Niamh Fahey’s omission.

There’s a nice mixture of excitement and nerves going into this one, the Dutch boss says.

“It’s a good tension. These are the games we live for, the icing on the cake of a top sports career. If the result is not positive, you want to dive under the ground, but if it is, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

As the countdown to kick-off in Kyiv continues, here’s how the Group I table currently stands:

Screenshot 2020-10-23 at 16.46.51 Source: Uefa.

All-conquering Germany, who beat Ireland 3-0 last time out, look to have top spot all but wrapped up, so the race is on for second place. A result today will seal it for Ireland, but second seeds Ukraine are their main rivals — with a game in hand, and against lower-ranked teams left at that. Ireland face Germany again in their last fixture in Tallaght in December, but they’ll hope to have second place secured by then.

The nine group winners and three best runners-up (Ireland are fourth at the minute) qualify directly for the finals tournament in England, while the remaining six runners-up advance to next April’s playoffs.

There’s no doubt about it, Ukraine will come out today seeking revenge. Ireland were 3-2 winners when the sides met in Tallaght last October, the start of the Vera Era as Pauw oversaw her first game in charge.

While the Girls In Green certainly dominated that night and showed a lovely attacking flair, they had some lapses in concentration and let the gutsy Ukrainians back into the game. That can’t happen again, we can’t sit back this evening.

Brighton striker Rianna Jarrett enjoyed one of her best nights in the green jersey against Ukraine last time out, and she’s hoping for more of the same again today.

Some pre-match reading from Jarrett, captain Katie McCabe, Ruesha Littlejohn and Leanne Kiernan, but you won’t have a lot of time to get through it all so pick one and choose wisely!

Right, we’re almost ready to go. Anthems sung and all other pre-match formalities out of the way, Ireland are in their last huddle before kick-off. It’s time…

Kick-off - Rianna Jarrett gets us underway, Ireland playing from left to right as we see it.

2 mins - both sides settling in in Kyiv, Ireland will be happy with their start. Megan Connolly gets stuck in from the get-go, but she and captain Katie McCabe concede frees. The second was in a good position with Shmatko letting the ball into the box, but McCabe dealt with it accordingly.

5 mins - Ireland are bringing the game to Ukraine here, putting them under pressure. Heather Payne’s run down the left ultimately results in a corner, with Arsenal’s McCabe really impressive from the set-piece. Louise Quinn gets a head to it and Ukraine look jittery, but keep it out. The hosts win two more from opposite corners, Jarrett scuffing an effort the second but it was far from a chance of any sort.

7 mins - Denise O’Sullivan is getting stuck in here, harrying around the middle, while Payne has seen plenty of the ball early doors. A McCabe gets her first chance off a free-kick, but nothing comes off it. Moments after, she’s taken down in almost the exact same area as she scored this stunner for Arsenal at the weekend, but the referee waves play on.

9 mins - Ireland are playing all the football here, it must be said. They’ve started really bright, and they’re growing in confidence play by play. Courtney Brosnan is called on for the first time between the posts, but it’s an easy ask for her to deal with. At the other end, meanwhile, Áine O’Gorman chases down and wins a corner. It’s sent in deep, but to no avail for Ireland.

12 mins - A nice bit of attacking play to capitalise on the good start: Ruesha Littlejohn finds McCabe onrushing on goal, but drifted out towards the right. She gets a ball squared in and while Ukraine deal with it, Harriet Scott steals it back and has a go. Her effort doesn’t trouble Sanina, and flies over but it’s good confidence for Ireland.

Again, Ukraine have set up so defensively. They know the goal threat Ireland bring.

14 mins - it’s spicing up nicely now. Scott gets stuck in with a fairly harmless tackle, showing her physicality. The same for Ukraine, Shmatko sees yellow for a challenge on Denise O’Sullivan, and Ireland get a superb opportunity from a free-kick.

This comes just after Jarrett showed a clean pair of heels down the left, before Sanina bravely came out to the very edge of her box to cut out the danger.

16 mins – SO CLOSE! McCabe clips the bar and it goes over, the free positioned in and around the same place but much more central than the beauty she scored for Arsenal at the weekend. Distractions from O’Sullivan and Littlejohn helped as McCabe pulled the trigger.

18 mins – The pressure is really on Ukraine here, Ireland by far the stronger side at this point. They’re winning the 50/50 balls and are really doing their talking on the pitch. Suddenly though, Ukraine threaten at the other end, and only for O’Gorman’s excellent interception, Brosnan would have had to pull off a save to deny Khimych.

22 mins - The hosts are settling into it much better now, playing the ball around a little more but they’re playing ultra-defensively. They know they need to win if they are to finish second in this group, and conceding an early goal would be a disaster.

Brighton’s Megan Connolly is doing a lot of hard work for Ireland, trying to justify her nod ahead of Niamh Fahey. At the other end, Pantsulaia is busy at left-back and dealing well with O’Gorman’s runs.

GOAL! Ukraine 1-0 Ireland (OG)

Ah lads… terribly disappointing after Ireland’s bright start. O’Gorman, under pressure, is forced to play a ball back to Brosnan, and the young ‘keeper is caught by the pace out of position.

28 mins – Ireland need to respond well to that horrific setback now. They’re playing the ball around again, trying to regain their composure, while Brosnan has dealt with another Ukraine chance accordingly. Keeping the head up is paramount here, and not conceding again, of course.

PENALTY FOR IRELAND! Denise O’Sullivan is taken down in the box by Shmatko. A great chance here.

MISS! Katie McCabe hammers it off the crossbar, and it stays 1-0 to Ukraine.

33 mins - That was a perfect opportunity for Ireland to level matters, and you have to feel for McCabe who ricochets it off the woodwork. The captain surely won’t let her head drop, though. And immediately after the miss, they responded well through O’Sullivan and Littlejohn. 

Also, how was Shmatko not sent off? She was already on a yellow.

37 mins - Ireland really are having no luck here. They’re playing all the football here, but they’re on the back foot in terms of the scoreline. Their most recent attack saw McCabe send a nice delivery into the box off a free-kick from the right, Littlejohn nearly gets on the end of it after a tussle, but it’s just too far. There are muffled calls for what was first thought was a penalty, but it went out for a goal-kick.

39 mins - Ireland are pressing on here, and producing some nice attacking play but they’ve had no real clear-cut chances. They’re starting to link up nicely; Payne, Littlejohn, O’Sullivan, Jarrett and McCabe in particular combining well going forward.

The most recent half-chance falls to Rianna Jarrett after some link up play with O’Sullivan. The Cork woman plays Jarrett through in the box, she’s held up on the spin and probably should have shot, but tries to square it to O’Sullivan instead – to no avail.

42 mins – Yellow card for Diane Caldwell, as a Ukrainian player – I can’t make out who it was – sustains a face injury of some sort. She’s okay, and plays on, while Caldwell responds brilliantly to her card setback. The Dubliner clears a low Ukrainian corner from the right, and Ireland are on the hunt for an equaliser by half time.

CLOSE! What a chance there, and Rianna Jarrett was centimetres away from bagging an equaliser. O’Gorman with a huge tackle at the back to get the move going before Heather Payne floated an absolutely superb ball into Jarrett’s path, and while she did everything right to get in behind the Ukrainian defence, she just couldn’t get power on the effort she got away. We probably should have pulled one back there.

One minute added on but the referee blows it up to deny Ireland of a corner won by Payne.

Also, just Ireland’s luck that it was Shmatko who cleared the ball off the line…

She gave away the penalty, and really should have been sent off as she was on a yellow already. Not a whole pile went Ireland’s way in that half, but they’ve been the better team by far. More patience and composure needed going forward, a goal will come.

Some more opinions from our writers here at The42:

The story of the half, and Ireland’s misfortune, in four parts:

Crossbar 1.0

Own goal

Penalty incident and crossbar 2.0

And a late chance

SECOND- HALF - Ukraine have us underway again after a delay at the restart, they bring on two substitutes. 

48 mins - Ireland come out all guns blazing after the break, and they win a corner early doors. McCabe sends in a lovely delivery, but Ukraine keep the ball out. Littlejohn is working hard and is proving a handful for Ukraine, as is McCabe with her crosses as she operates down the left. On the other side, Payne sends in one herself and Littlejohn gets in on the goalmouth scramble but enough is done from a Ukraine perspective.

50 mins - Another McCabe set-piece is sent in long towards the back post, where her former Arsenal team-mate Louise Quinn gets a touch on it. Sanina gathers, though is clipped by the on-running Caldwell, who is on a yellow. After the ‘keeper goes down, there are Ukrainian shouts for a red. Harmless but still needless, and the SC Sand defender is waved on.

54 mins - A snap-shot on target from Jarrett, she catches it well from close range but it’s straight at Sanina. Immense work from O’Sullivan in the build-up there, she gets in around the right leaving Pantsulaia for dead.

Ireland get in again moments after, but there’s just not enough in Heather Payne’s cross from the left. They’re creating more and more chances though, Irish fans will hope there’s a goal on the way.

57 mins - Some good defending from Harriet Scott there, rock solid in the box and she wins a free out. Denise O’Sullivan does well when the ball ends up the other end, and she thought she did enough in a tussle to win a corner, but she doesn’t just.

There’s been a real stop-start nature to this half, Andrushchak down injured. She’s taken off but may come back on, Ukraine down to 10 for now.

60 mins - Calls for another Irish penalty there after great work from McCabe, she’s taken down on the edge of the box but it’s waved on. Lisa Fallon says on commentary that it looks like a good Khimych challenge more than anything. Another Ukraine player down, there could be more substitutions coming.

63 mins - Brilliant period of momentum here as the visitors put the hosts under serious pressure. Ireland are getting great joy dow the right hand side, Payne really coming alive. Voronina, their substitute left-back, is under immense pressure. 

Sanina is doing just enough between the posts to keep the Girls In Green out as they lay siege, Littlejohn with the most recent opportunity off the back of a Payne cross.

65 mins - Yellow card for Katie McCabe to cheers from the stand. Must have been for talking back, as Ruesha Littlejohn tells her to quieten down. Back to the action, Voronina sees yellow trying to cut Payne out not far outside the box and we’re in McCabe territory free-kick here…

68 mins - McCabe’s effort sails over, unfortunately. Ireland are on the press with a collection of throws up the right now. Sanina goes to cut Denise O’Sullivan out, but panics and sends the ball out for, what looked like a corner, but it’s another throw.

70 mins - After just coming on at half time, Voronina is taken off. Payne has been a handful for her and on a yellow card, that’s a good move by manager Natalia Zinchenko. Could it be time for Vera Pauw to use one of her five subs as things get scrappy here…

73 mins - Denise O’Sullivan shows great feet and has a pop but it goes to the right and wide. There’s no doubt about it, Ireland need a goal here but Ukraine will do everything they can to ensure that doesn’t happen. A 1-0 win is absolutely perfect for them.

megan-connolly-with-daryna-apanaschenko Ireland's Megan Connolly with Daryna Apanaschenko of Ukraine. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

75 mins - A disappointing free from McCabe there, Sanina gathers the ball sent in. Moments later — and after loads of whistling from the referee and some more stop-start play — Ireland win another one from a similar position on the other side. A better delivery from McCabe, and it needs a touch, but nothing substantial comes off it.

78 mins - Excellent play from Jarrett, who dances down the left and does very well to gets a cross away, but Ukraine keep it out and manage the game, like they did at times in Dublin. A defender goes down in the box after clashing with Denise O’Sullivan, there’s nothing in it but they win a free out.

81 mins - More of the same from Ukraine, who are doing all they can to slow this game down. They got a shot away there, but it sailed over the bar and didn’t trouble Ireland at all. 16-year-old Wexford Youths star Ellen Molloy is warming up and being briefed by Vera Pauw, fresh legs would be welcome.

83 mins – Two players down, one from each side as Harriet Scott and Apanaschenko clash heads in the air. Both are back on their feet now.

In comes Molloy and striker Amber Barrett, Harriet Scott one of the players to come off, we’ll let you know the other once it’s announced.

86 mins - The injection of fresh legs is welcome, and Ireland drive on from there. Katie McCabe plays a super ball in from the left and Louise Quinn connects clean with it in the air. A super header but it goes over!

88 mins - Close call at the other end as Brosnan and McCabe scramble for the ball on the edge of the box to keep a Ukrainian player out. At the other end, Molloy gets involved and brings some life along with Barrett…

89 mins - Golden chance for Ukraine to kill the game there but after a nervy moment, Brosnan gets it in her hands and that’s that. Ireland really need a goal, with the numbers committed forward. Louise Quinn up there as a target.

One moment of brilliance is all we need, one chance. Four minutes added on.

90 mins - Ukraine slow things down with a substitution, juts after O’Gorman is blown for offside. The hosts looking shaky at the back, could it happen?

92 mins – Khimyc fouls Molloy, McCabe free… this is it, is it?

93 mins - Littlejohn gets up for the ball but it goes out, and it’s a Ukraine goalkick. There’s still time. One more chance, in the last minute of additional time.

FULL-TIME: Ukraine 1-0 Ireland 

Seemed slightly premature for the final whistle after Ukraine made substitutes in injury time, but there it goes. Heartbreaking for Ireland.

And that’s that for today anyway. Luck certainly wasn’t on Ireland’s side tonight, and they were by far the better team. But Ukraine drove on from their fortuitous goal and managed the game brilliantly.

Tears from some Irish players at the death, most notably Áine O’Gorman, but the dream isn’t dead just yet. Germany still have to come to town.

“We’re absolutely gutted,” says a gutted Katie McCabe in her interview with RTÉ afterwards. “We gave it everything. The positives were there. We stuck to our game plan but it just wasn’t there for us on the night.”

“I should be finishing them,” she adds on her penalty, hell-bent on trying to get a result against Germany.

The qualification dream certainly isn’t over, as Ireland and Ukraine continue to battle for second place in Group I but tonight’s result comes as a huge boost for the latter.

Taking three points against Germany in Tallaght Stadium on 1 December is a huge ask but stealing a point or at least, keeping the score down, would be massive (Germany beat Ukraine 8-0 twice). 

Greece could do Ireland a huge favour by taking a point at home to Ukraine. If that happens, it will likely come down to goal difference. The second seeds also have to play minnows Montenegro.

That late draw in Athens last year has really come back to haunt Ireland.

As Billo would say, we’ll leave it there so. A night to forget for Ireland in the end on what could have been a monumental occasion, but Pauw and her side will go again, no doubt about that.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the weekend.

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Emma Duffy


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