'The best team in the world on their day' - Ireland prepare to shut out European champions again

Having drawn 0-0 with the Dutch back in November, manager Colin Bell is hopeful of pulling off something similar at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow.

Bell, his coaching staff and the squad huddle this afternoon at Tallaght Stadium.
Bell, his coaching staff and the squad huddle this afternoon at Tallaght Stadium.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

COLIN BELL IS under no illusions that Ireland’s women will need everything to fall into the place if they are to repeat the stand-out result of his tenure so far tomorrow evening.

Back in November, the Girls in Green put in a heroically-disciplined performance to hold the Netherlands to a 0-0 draw in Nijmegen.

They may have rode their luck at times during the second half, but the visitors never veered from their manager’s gameplan against the current European champions and came away with a huge point.

After Amber Barrett’s first international goal saw Ireland claim a last-gasp win over Slovakia on Friday, they are back in action for another mammoth World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday (7pm kick-off).

With no fresh injury worries to deal with, Bell and his coaching staff put the group through their final preparations at the home of Shamrock Rovers this afternoon.

The Dutch only lead Ireland by goal difference at the top of Group 3 with 10 points each after four matches, but Sarina Wiegman’s side scored seven unanswered goals against Northern Ireland on Friday to show just how ruthless they can be if given the chance.

“If you go behind early and even if you’re organised, they are so dangerous with set-pieces and those kind of things,” said Bell. “If you concede one or two quite early, they are capable of putting six or seven past everybody — not just the smaller nations.

“That’s the danger. I was there when they beat England 3-0 at the Euros and that could easy have been five or six. On their day, if they move the ball around and have players in positions you don’t want them to be, they can destroy every team. That’s the task.”

Colin Bell Bell during today's session. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He added: “The Dutch have changed a few things since we played them and they are trying to adapt better against teams that defend very deep. We’ve spotted that and we have to react to it.

“We have to be compact and organised, but that’s the same in every game. It’s about what area you’re defending in and we were forced into our own half so we’re expecting that again tomorrow because they are a very heavily possession-based team. They move the ball and use the spaces very well.

“But we need a threat going forward and we must get in and around their box. I want free-kicks, corners, the crowd to be excited and maybe something can happen.

“We have to make sure that we’re in the game all the time and we need that tactical discipline that we had in the Netherlands. We have to try to show that we can do it twice and that it wasn’t just a once-off.

If we get it wrong, then we could be in trouble like every nation would be against Holland. You make mistakes, give them too much space, too much time to play or with set-pieces and they are really, really dangerous.

“We know where the threats are coming from and so it’s about keeping that concentration up until the very end, especially when you’ve been moved around the pitch because they are so strong on the ball. That’s what we’ve been working on in the last few days of training.”

Lieke Martens with Louise Quinn Netherlands' Lieke Martens with Ireland pair Louise Quinn (left) and Sophie Perry when the teams last met. Source: Orange Pictures/Rob Koppers/INPHO

During that encouraging draw, Bell opted to use Peamount United’s Amber Barrett as a lone striker before bringing on Leanne Kiernan of Shelbourne at half-time to freshen things up. Both home-based players worked their socks off for 45 minutes each and he will be glad to have seen the pair on the scoresheet in the victory over Slovakia three days ago.

While he refused to divulge any selection decisions, the Ireland boss is toying between a couple of possible systems.

“We’ve got two variations that we have tried in training and now it’s down to me to see which one is logical,” he explained. “I’m obviously not going to say but I’ll have to see what’s going to be best for the team to start off with.

We need to be in the game and we don’t want a situation where we are three or four-nil down at half-time. We’ve got to be in there with a shout and we need to have a threat up front as well. We’ve got to get into situations where we can hurt them.

“In November, I knew that both girls weren’t fit enough to play 90 minutes at that tempo, but they have improved that dramatically. The girls knew to give everything they had got for 45 minutes. Maybe Amber could have survived another five or 10 but that would have been the limit. It was like job-sharing, really. This time, we’re in a different situation.”

Current Senior Women’s International Player of the Year Harriet Scott did an excellent job in keeping Dutch forward Shanice van de Sanden quiet in the reverse fixture, but the Reading full-back is unavailable as she continues to recover from a broken collarbone.

Karen Duggan was named eirSport’s Player of the Match on Friday after slotting in at left full-back, but replacing Scott won’t be easy.

“That is a big task and we have to find the solution as we’re still looking for it,” says Bell. “On that evening, Harriet marked Van de Sanden out of the game and she was even taken off. We can’t really replace Harriet so we have to adapt to that and try to keep Van de Sanden out. It won’t be a one-on-one situation and we need an overload in those areas.

“In the last couple of days, we’ve been trying to get that right and we’re still not 100%, but we’re on the way to finding the answer.”

Netherlands v Denmark - UEFA Women's Euro 2017 - Final - De Grolsch Veste Netherlands and Lyon forward Shanice van de Sanden. Source: Mike Egerton

Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan, who was outstanding between the sticks when these sides last met, had to thank match-winner Barrett for bailing her out on Friday after dropping the ball to score an embarrassing own goal and allow Slovakia back into the game.

The Manchester City stopper, who is currently on loan at Brighton, will be just fine according to her manager, however.

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“In the meal after the game, I made a remark which went down quite well, but she was okay,” said Bell. “She is, first of all, a great person and she’s done a great job for me so far as a good goalkeeper.

She will put that behind her. Gianluca, my goalkeeping coach, has been speaking to her more intensely and he’s raring to go for tomorrow.”

3,521 turned out to watch the win over Slovakia and a similar attendance is expected on Tuesday despite the fact that the game clashed with the Champions League quarter-final second leg between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Marie Hourihan Marie Hourihan with fellow goalkeeper Amanda Budden. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With a first-ever qualification to the Women’s World Cup still on the cards, interest in the team remains high and Bell has been pleased with the support they have received since he took over from Sue Ronan in February of last year.

“We want to push that forward and compete with the big nations,” he said. “We have that expectation on ourselves now. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win every match and I am realistic about that. I know we’re at the start of a process that we want to push forward but we are going in the right direction and it’s nice to get that recognition.

“People are coming to watch the girls and we want to give the crowd something to hold onto. It’s got to be like a cup match tomorrow, and we need to have that kind of character.

“Regardless of the result, we’re still in the tournament. That’s a positive and it’s why the Slovakia game was so important for us. I said to the girls afterwards that we still have to play Northern Ireland at the very end and that will be tough with the local derby element.

Now from five nations that could qualify from the group when we start, it’s now gone down to three and we’re one of them.

“At the beginning, everyone just looked at Holland and Norway and thought ‘Which nation is going to finish first and which is going to the play-offs?’.

“Nobody talked about us, Slovakia or Northern Ireland but we’re in there with a shout and that’s where we want to be going into the next games after this one. We’re up against it and we’re playing against the best team in Europe for sure. For me, on their day they are the best team in the world at the moment.

“Everybody has to realise who is coming tomorrow night and who we are playing against, but it is exciting.”

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