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Ireland not planning to 'park the bus' when they face 'the best team in the world'

The Girls in Green resume their European Championship qualifying bid against Germany next month.

Celebrations for the German team after Alexandra Popp's goal against England at Wembley last November.
Celebrations for the German team after Alexandra Popp's goal against England at Wembley last November.
Image: Richard Callis

WITH THREE GAMES remaining, the Republic of Ireland are sitting pretty at the top of their qualifying group for the European Championships.

If you’re expecting them to still occupy that position by the time the Group I campaign ends in December, allow manager Vera Pauw to deliver a reality check. 

“Winning the group is unrealistic,” she said today after naming her squad for next month’s clash with a Germany team who are just one point adrift with a game in hand.

In Essen on 19 September, Ireland, aiming to reach a major tournament for the first time, will take on a nation that won six consecutive European Championship titles before the Netherlands were victorious at Euro 2017.

Germany, despite their elimination at the quarter-final stage of last year’s World Cup at the hands of Sweden, are the best team in women’s international football, according to Pauw. 

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side have won all four of their Euro 2021 qualifying games so far, scoring a remarkable 31 goals – and conceding none – along the way. They were also 2-1 winners against England last November in a friendly that attracted 77,768 fans to Wembley.

“This is a huge game,” said Pauw. “Germany, at this moment for me, is the best team in the world. They were in a dip recently, they had a transition period, but Martina Voss has this team right on track again. 

“The way they play, the variety that they play with, the quality of their play, how they dominate the game in every aspect, to me it’s the best footballing team in the world at this moment. It’s very difficult but we will do everything in our power to give them resistance, and then we’ll see how far it goes.”

katie-mccabe-and-vera-pauw-celebrate-winning Captain Katie McCabe with manager Vera Pauw after Ireland's win against Montenegro in March. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

With key contributions from players like Denise O’Sullivan, Katie McCabe and Rianna Jarrett, Ireland have produced promising passages of attacking play while accumulating points against Ukraine, Greece and Montenegro earlier in this campaign.

The task presented by Germany will be significantly greater than any Ireland have faced since Pauw was appointed nearly 12 months ago, but the Dutchwoman is adamant that the Girls in Green won’t be altering their approach.

She said: “I don’t think in terms like: now we play an attacking game and in the next game we don’t play an attacking game. We play an opponent, we find a strategy for that opponent, and within that we give our best.

“The principles will be the same – it’s whether Germany will stop us from doing it, which is more likely from Germany than from Montenegro. The philosophy will not change, it’s just what the opponent will let us do.

“The prediction is that Germany will push us back and that we need to put something against that. It will not be the case that we will park the bus and just kick the ball forward – that will not be the intention. Maybe that’s the outcome because of the difference in strength, but that will never be the intention of our game.

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“The intention of our game is that in every moment of the game we take the best out of our players, what we are capable of, and I hope that we can show that against Germany as well.”

Instead of assembling at home, Covid-19 restrictions will require the Ireland players to travel directly to Germany, with the squad due to convene in Duisburg on Monday 14 September before making the short journey to Stadion Essen for the game the following Saturday.

ireland-team-huddle The Ireland team in a huddle before the win against Greece in Tallaght earlier this year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Germany will be the opposition again when Ireland’s Group I campaign concludes in Dublin on 1 December. Before then, however, they’re scheduled to travel to Kiev for a game that Pauw believes could be decisive in their bid to qualify for the tournament in England, which has been postponed until July 2022 as a consequence of the pandemic.

Having already recorded a 3-2 win against Ukraine in Tallaght, Pauw’s side will be keen to secure another positive result in the return fixture on 23 October.

The group winners will be rewarded with automatic qualification, as will the three best second-placed teams. If Ireland are unable to earn a place in either category, they’ll have to settle for a play-off – but there’s still work to be done.

“It’s more about the Ukraine game but we’ll never leave an opportunity if we can get a result in Germany, because every point will count for the best second-placed teams,” said Pauw, who will have a chance to run the rule over several members of the German squad in Sunday’s night’s Champions League final between Wolfsburg and Lyon (RTÉ 2, 7pm).

“Ukraine is the game where we cannot lose. If we don’t lose in Ukraine we will proceed to at least the play-offs. That’s the situation at this moment. But any point that we can steal from Germany will help us, of course.”

She added: “We have to be realistic. We want to take everything we possibly can from the Germany game but for me the key game is Ukraine. If we can take three points against Ukraine and steal a point against Germany we have a huge chance to go straight to England.”

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Paul Dollery

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