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A closer look at Ireland's potential World Cup play-off opponents

Vera Pauw’s side face the winners of Scotland and Austria away on 11 October.

wwd Erin Cuthbert and Nicole Billa, key players for Scotland and Austria. Source: Alamy.

IT’S SCOTLAND OR Austria away next month for the Republic of Ireland in their historic World Cup play-off.

It’s a difficult draw, but certainly doable, as they look to reach a first-ever major tournament in Australia and New Zealand 2023.

First, a reminder of the draw:

Round One

  • Scotland v Austria
  • Wales v Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Portugal v Belgium

Round Two

  • Portugal/Belgium v Iceland 
  • Scotland/Austria v Ireland
  • Switzerland v Wales/Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hampden Park will stage the first-round meeting of the Scots and Austrians on 6 October, with the winners hosting Ireland five days later on the 11th.

(Ireland secured a first-round bye this week as one of the three best runners-up from the group stages. Iceland and Switzerland were the other two.)

If it’s Scotland, it’ll be back to the Glasgow venue — “special” for Vera Pauw, who was manager in the early noughties, and for the travelling support — while Austria play their home games at Stadion Wiener Neustadt, an hour or so from Vienna.

Of the second-round winners, the two with the highest ranking — based on results in the qualifying group stage and round two play-offs: three points for a win after 120 minutes, one for a win on penalties — will qualify directly for next summer’s World Cup, while the other nation head to New Zealand in February for the inter-confederation play-offs. The last three qualifying spots are up for grabs at the 10-team tournament.

Screen Shot 2022-09-08 at 22.30.57 Source: Uefa.

A win for Ireland in October would likely send them down that route — but the main hope for direct qualification is that Portugal/Belgium beat Iceland at home that same night, unless there’s an unlikely slip-up for Switzerland at home to Wales/Bosnia.

For now, let’s take a closer look at their direct opponents, both of whom Vera Pauw roundly praised as she refused to reveal a preference.

Scotland

Scotland are 23rd in the Fifa world rankings, three places above Ireland. 

In qualifying, they finished second in Group B behind Spain, who prevailed with a perfect record. Pedro Martinez Losa’s Scots recorded five wins, one draw and two defeats in the group stages; their defeats to Spain — 8-0 away and 2-0 at home — and the draw 1-1 against Ukraine at home last November.

They won 4-1 away to Ireland’s Euro 2022 qualifying nemesis. 

Screen Shot 2022-09-09 at 13.10.05

Like the Girls In Green, Scotland failed to reach the Euros, which was a setback after their 2017 appearance and another at the 2019 World Cup, but they’ll be pleased with how they’ve rebounded.

They have no shortage of big stars in their ranks: Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, Real Madrid’s Caroline Weir and Arsenal captain Kim Little, whom Vera Pauw often name-checks.

The Irish manager did so once again today, when giving her immediate reaction to the draw.

“Scotland are a really good team,” Pauw said. “We all know how much experience they have, how dynamic they play, with players like Kim Little. We have huge respect for them.

“Scotland is more dynamic, faster in their play, with more variety in their play than Austria, and have extremely good players that can break down a defensive line.”

The vast majority of the squad play domestically or in England.

Ireland and Scotland last played in 2017, the Scots winning the international friendly 1-0. They also triumphed by the minimum twice in the Euro 2013 group stages.

Austria

The Austrians are 20th in the rankings, six places above Ireland and three to Scotland’s better.

They reached the Euro 2022 quarter-finals this summer, bowing out after a 2-0 defeat to Germany. Irene Fuhrmann’s side lost just 1-0 to eventual champions England in their Old Trafford opener, before recording group-stage wins over Northern Ireland and Norway.

It’s not the first time they’ve stifled the Lionesses and caused them problems in recent times, also pitted against them in Group D of World Cup qualifying.

Screen Shot 2022-09-09 at 13.10.46

Last November, the Austrians fell to a 1-0 away defeat, while they lost 2-0 at home last weekend but looked good against Wiegman’s heavyweights. A 2-2 draw with Northern Ireland, salvaged late on at Seaview last October, brought their only other dropped points.

Likewise, Pauw hailed their experience and know-how earlier.

“Austria impressed me hugely at the Euros. I did one of their games for RTÉ, they are well organised, physically strong, [have] a few extremely good, talented players, a strong striker, a solid defence, so if they get through it will be very, very difficult. Austria’s strength is their organisation. They’re very solid in their team set-up, both defending and in attack. There are not any weak points.”

There are no shortage of strong ones, with Hoffenheim striker Nicole Billa, an Arsenal duo — goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger and defender Laura Wienroither — and Bayern Munich midfielder Sarah Zadrazil among their standout stars.

Most of their squad play in Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga, with others dotted in England, Italy, Switzerland and on home soil. 

Ireland last faced them at the 2015 Istria Cup, losing 2-0.

At that same tournament, the Girls In Green fell to Slovakia on the same scoreline.

They’ve come a long way, but have some way to go yet.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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