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What do Ireland's World Cup group rivals think of Vera Pauw's side?

The Girls In Green will face Australia, Canada and Nigeria next summer.

Celebrations after Ireland qualified for the World Cup.
Celebrations after Ireland qualified for the World Cup.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland women’s national team are heading to their first-ever major tournament in the 2023 World Cup next summer.

Australia and New Zealand host the tournament from 20 July to 20 August 2023, with the Girls In Green drawn into a rather challenging Group B.

Vera Pauw’s side will kick off against co-hosts Australia in Sydney on opening day, before facing Olympic gold medallists Canada in Perth and rounding off the group stages against strong fourth seeds Nigeria in Brisbane. The top two in each group progress to the last 16 and the knockout rounds.

We at The42 ran the rule over the opposition last week, but what exactly do Australia, Canada and Nigeria think of their Irish counterparts? How do they view Pauw’s history-makers?

Emma Duffy spoke to sports journalists from, or operating in, each nation to find out…

vera-pauw Republic of Ireland boss Vera Pauw is preparing her team for next summer's tournament. Source: Photosport/Alan Lee/INPHO

Australian eye

Samantha Lewis

Lewis works as a digital sports journalist for ABC Sport, specialising in Australian women’s football and women’s football more broadly. She regularly features on ESPN Australia & NZ women’s football podcast The Far Post, and her work has also been published by The Guardian and ESPN.

1. The 2023 World Cup is a huge story here, there must be a big buzz in Australia as a host nation?

The draw has been really big for us in terms of making the Women’s World Cup feel real. The last two years, most of the work that’s happened has been largely behind the scenes. We haven’t really seen anything visibly marking this tournament to really get people excited, particularly not people outside the women’s football bubble, but the draw was such a big deal, because it was one of the major milestones. It created a huge buzz here across all the different mainstream networks. It reached a huge amount of people, and that was one of the big tipping points to really let people know that this is happening. 

2. What is the Australian perspective of Group B, or the general consensus of the opposition from those Down Under?

By a number of people in the media, this group has been described as the group of death, it’s been described as the nightmare group for the Matildas. When you look across the pots, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and Nigeria are first or second ranked teams in their respective pots, the strongest opposition that you possibly could have drawn in those spaces.

But there are others, including myself, who aren’t seeing this group as a group of death. Really, the teams seem quite even and competitive. That’s really exciting. I don’t think there is necessarily one absolutely runaway incredible team — or two, which you see in a number of the other groups. Every team can beat every other team, and I think that’s what’s so exciting about it.

soccer-australia-canada-women Australia's Sam Kerr is one of the biggest names in world football. Source: AAP/PA Images

It’s scary, of course, particularly as the home nation, because a single slip-up could completely derail the campaign. But it makes it really exciting and it means that from the very, very beginning, all of these teams have to be switched on, all of them have to be playing to win. They can’t falter, they can’t shake off the rust in the opening game, they have to hit the ground running.

And I think with that kind of energy and momentum, it could cause some pretty big upsets and it could also lead to a potential fairytale run for one or two of these teams as well.

3. More specifically, what are the thoughts on Ireland? How much is known about the team and players?

I think there are two kind of approaches to the Republic of Ireland from an Australian perspective. The first, there’s a lot of recency bias. We look at the most recent friendly, where you defeated us 3-2 and a lot of people extrapolate and they make assumptions based on that particular game. When I re-watched that game, in the context of all of the Matildas’ performances over the last two years, that really was probably one of the worst games that Australia played. By virtue of that, I don’t necessarily look at the Republic of Ireland as the same kind of threat perhaps as a couple of other people do based on that game in isolation.

denise-osullivan-and-katie-mccabe-celebrate-winning O'Sullivan and McCabe: "We know that they are absolutely world-class." Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

The second part of that is that there are a number of big names in this Ireland team that people in Australian football do recognise. You see someone like Katie McCabe, who’s playing at Arsenal alongside a couple of Matildas like Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley. You see Denise O’Sullivan, who’s playing over in the NWSL but has also had stints here in Australia in the A-League Women’s. A number of these players, they do ring bells for a couple of people and we know that they are absolutely world-class.

4. Is a big Irish contingent expected next summer? There’s obviously diaspora from these shores in both Australia and New Zealand?

I absolutely anticipate the opening game is going to be huge in terms of crowd support for both sides.

The Matildas, in particular, they really, really embrace home support. It’s something that has not just manifested in record-breaking crowds, it also shows in their performances as well. You see them respond to the energy of a home crowd, of tens of thousands of people being that 12th player on the field, and really lapping that up.

That opening game in Sydney, I think it’s already close to being sold out as well. It’s gonna be unfathomably exciting.

Canadian view

Eoin O’Callaghan

O’Callaghan is an Irish freelance sportswriter based in Toronto. His work has featured on The42, The Athletic and The Guardian; he’s the author of Keane: Origins; and has created, starred in, and executive produced the film Celtic Soul.

1. This is a huge story in Ireland with lots of excitement around it. What’s it like on the ground in Canada? 

The big story in Canada at the moment is the men’s World Cup. Right now there’s also a simmering subplot in Canadian soccer circles pertaining to the governing body of Canada soccer and their own battles with players. There’s a continuing story here about trying to grow an actual women’s professional league in Canada. The Women’s World Cup certainly is there, but it’s on the horizon.

There’s a number of other elements that are more pressing, even for notable voices. The likes of Christine Sinclair, it’s not as if she’s been speaking much about World Cup qualification. Instead she’s talking about Canada Soccer, improving relationships with players, the players union, getting good deals in line.

The men’s team haven’t been in a World Cup since 1986, and also just timing with it being at the end of the year. And for Canada, a World Cup, it’s kind of business as usual. It’s just expected that they get there, it’s expected that they do a good job, that they stand up and they’re there of thereabouts when it comes to deciding the championship. 

nwsl-championship-preview-soccer Canada's Christine Sinclair has scored 190 international goals, the record for any male or female footballer. Source: Fernando Llano

2. What is the Canadian view of Group B?

I think the ultimate opinion of it is it’s not good and it’s not bad, it’s somewhere in between. I guess one of the narratives is that they’ve avoided a major potential banana skin. The first instinct is that that’s a manageable group. 

In the case of an Irish team, they’re not necessarily household names but Canada would be able to access these guys, do their homework on it and make sure that they cover all eventualities. Again, it comes back to Canada. They don’t want to be too disrespectful to any team.

If you’re looking at it in a ranking, maybe it’s Nigeria #2, Australia #3, and Ireland probably looked upon as being the basement team in that group — but, again, not from a disrespectful perspective. I think that they would look at Ireland coming here, it’s a historic event for them, they will be full of optimism, that they will probably be underdogs. They will come into the tournament with pressure off.

Out of any European sides to get drawn against it in that group, I think they’re probably glad that they’ve got a team like Ireland who are there for the first time.

3. What are the thoughts on Ireland? Would much be known of the team; manager Vera Pauw and big-name players Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan?

There wouldn’t really be much until you get closer to the tournament, when there would be more opening up into the analysis of opponents: what can we find out about a team like Ireland? Who plays where? Do they have Canadian team-mates?

But from a general perspective, absolutely not.

chelsea-v-reading-barclays-fa-womens-super-league-kingsmeadow Jessie Fleming plays her football in the WSL with Chelsea. Source: PA

Even if you think of our more high-profile players; Denise would be a celebrated figure for us, she hasn’t even figured in either of the NWSL first-choice or second-choice best XIs for the season. For me, in the NWSL conversation, Denise is completely overshadowed and underrated. Even Katie, from a Super League perspective, I don’t think gets a lot of the plaudits that she necessarily deserves.

Arguably, it’s a great situation for you to be in. When you’re doing your World Cup previews and you’re looking at the tournament, who is going to be a star of this competition or a potential gamechanger? I don’t think anybody is going to list Katie McCabe or Denise O’Sullivan or Amber Barrett or Louise Quinn. You’re genuinely going to step into this tournament as complete outsiders, which I guess fits the bill for the Irish team and they’ll almost wear it as a badge of honour.  

Nigerian view

Dorcas Koki

Koki is a sports presenter and analyst for NigeriaInfoPH and COOL FM, and was selected as an AIPS young reporter and broadcaster in 2021.

1. The 2023 World Cup is a huge story here as it’s Ireland’s first major tournament. What about in Nigeria? Is there excitement for next summer?

The atmosphere here? It’s not like it used to be back in the day. Something has changed. They aren’t performing as they used to. After losing the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, the atmosphere hasn’t been that optimistic. For most people, they just feel like, ‘We should just go in there and do our best.’ We aren’t going there to win it.

The last time we got to the quarter-finals was in 1999 with our previous Super Falcons team… getting to the final, that’s a big ask. They just want to go there with their chances to see if they’re going to come out of this group, which will be challenging.

2. What is the Nigerian perspective of Group B, or general views of Australia, Ireland and Canada?

Just couple of days after the draw, [Barcelona player and former national team captain] Asisat Oshoala said she’d like to think the team would come out of that group. But yes, it’s a very tough group.

uefa-champions-league-women-football-match-football-womens-champions-league-fc-barcelona-v-sl-benfica-spain Asisat Oshoala is one of Nigeria's stars. Source: Marc Graupera Aloma/Dppi

I don’t think they know much about the Republic of Ireland. All they need to do now is watch their previous videos and their previous matches to see their chances to win against them. They know the Canadians; they met them earlier this year, I think in April, when we had the double-legged friendly, where we lost 2-1 and then played out a 2-2 draw. They know Canada quite well. And they met before where they also lost 2-0 as well.

I don’t think they know much about the Matildas of Australia, but you could say the Australians have got really good, experienced players in their ranks as well as the Canadians.

Yes, the group is tough, but would rate their chances of coming out of the group.

3. More specifically, what are the thoughts on Ireland? Would Vera Pauw be known? What about big-name players like Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan? 

Nigerians are pretty much familiar with Australia and Canada, most especially Australia because we have plenty of Chelsea fans over here and Australia have Sam Kerr. She has a massive following here in Nigeria, they know her quite a lot. They know Australia and Canada, but definitely not Republic of Ireland.

The thing is it’s left for the media here in Nigeria to make them know who Ireland is, what they can bring, the chances that they they will have have ahead of the tournament. It’s exciting to get to play someone new and experience something new.

The Super Falcons are the lowest ranked team in the group and that has to tell a lot… for the first time in the history of the Super Falcons, they lost their three matches at the WAFCON earlier this year in Morocco. Played the third-place play-off — we love to call it the loser’s final here — and they lost that to Zambia as well. That has never happened.

Everyone is catching up to Nigeria. Nigeria just seem to be stagnant. They aren’t growing. Lots of Nigerians are talking about what happened at the WAFCON and that’s why the optimism isn’t there ahead of the World Cup. Randy Waldrom, the American coach of the Super Falcons, is going to have to bring back that trust to Nigerians that we can do this. He spoke after the draw and he said the group was very tough, but we have players that have got the guts and character to qualify out of that group, which I think is pretty much good from the coach. 

Ireland is a team that Nigerians will have to be careful of. They don’t know what they can bring, but they’ve got players who play in some of the biggest leagues especially the Women’s Super League in England. Katie McCabe, she is an outstanding player.

It’s going to be quite a difficult task for the Nigerians to keep up, but the Nigerian spirit is to never give up, so I’m sure the girls will never give up. 

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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