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What's next as Ireland chase World Cup dream?

Vera Pauw’s Girls In Green have three group games remaining, with a convoluted play-off route down the line should they progress.

Celebrations after Katie McCabe's goal in Gothenburg on Tuesday.
Celebrations after Katie McCabe's goal in Gothenburg on Tuesday.
Image: Tommy Holl/INPHO

Updated Apr 14th 2022, 10:12 PM

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland’s momentous 1-1 draw with Sweden, the team ranked second in the world, this week means the 2023 World Cup qualification dream is more alive than ever.

The Girls In Green are firmly in the driving seat for a second-place finish in Group A, as they target a coveted play-off position in their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament.

While a positive result in Gothenburg certainly wasn’t make or break, the hard-earned point against the European and world heavyweights could be crucial down the line.

It was the first qualifying point dropped by the red-hot Swedes on home soil since 2010, though a draw was all they needed to qualify automatically and maintain their record of featuring at every World Cup in history.

They now join France and Spain as the European qualifiers with their tickets secured to Australia and New Zealand 2023 so far, with Vera Pauw’s Ireland (ranked 30th) hoping to follow in their footsteps.

There’s a long road ahead, and here’s how things are shaping up:

How the group stands

Screenshot 2022-04-14 11.45.46 Source: Uefa,

Ireland slid from second to third, despite their monumental result in Gothenburg, as nearest rivals Finland — second seeds, ranked 28th — were 6-0 winners over Group A minnows Georgia on the same night.

The Girls In Green are two points adrift, but have a game in hand: June’s trip to Georgia, where a win is widely expected after the 11-0 trouncing in Tallaght late last year.

And then it should all boil down to a decisive September double-header: Finland at home first, before facing Slovakia away. Three wins from three massive games may be needed to secure a first-ever runners-up finish in their qualifying group, and progress to play-offs for the first time since 2008.

Ireland’s results so far

  • 0-1 home defeat to Sweden
  • 2-1 away win against Finland
  • 1-1 home draw with Slovakia
  • 11-0 home win against Georgia
  • 1-1 away draw with Sweden

You can view all of the results in Group A here >

Ireland’s fixtures to come

  • Georgia away on 27 June
  • Finland at home on 1 September
  • Slovakia away on 6 September

September showdowns

Ireland’s home meeting with Finland on 1 September is the big one.

The crunch clash has long been earmarked as the decisive fixture, with Pauw highlighting that the second game between the group’s second and third seeds “will determine who has the chance to go to the World Cup or not” after the original draw was made.

Avoiding defeat could be enough to secure second place for Ireland. A victory would guarantee a play-off and bury the Finnish challenge, but a draw would more than likely push the race to the last round of matches a few days later.

Should the second scenario materialise, Ireland — who are away to Slovakia — may have to better Finland’s result at home to Sweden in their own final qualifie. The Slovaks travel to Georgia on the first September matchday, while the debate over whether the Ireland-Finland showdown should be played in Tallaght Stadium or the Aviva has already begun.

katie-mccabe-with-filippa-angeldal McCabe with Filippa Angeldal of Sweden. Source: Tommy Holl/INPHO

Scandinavian concerns

This is something else Pauw highlighted just after the draw was made in April 2021. The Ireland boss was furious with the Nordic neighbours, who effectively formed a pact and tried to delay both of their meetings until the final slots during the fixtures meeting. 

“They had taken the last matchday before the meeting started,” she told reporters. “They had agreed that already before the draw: If we draw each other, this is what we will do. I have reported it already to Uefa because it is unfair and it should stop.”

In the end, only one of the clashes was reserved until the final window — Sweden won 2-1 at home earlier in the campaign — but Sweden effectively have nothing to play for now, having wrapped up their qualification fate nice and early.

Asked in Tuesday’s post-match press conference if Finland will have an easier task than Ireland against a Sweden side already qualified, Pauw said: “Usually, it’s easier but I hope Sweden do their sporting duty. I think they will be proud enough to not drop any more points.”

Sweden manager Peter Gerhardsson echoed that sentiment, vowing to demonstrate sporting integrity: “Of course, for us it is like Ireland versus England, we want to win it.”

The convoluted play-off route

It’s complicated, to say the very least.

Ireland won’t be worrying about the ins and outs just yet, but it’s worth a look down the line.

While the winners of the nine qualifying groups progress directly to next summer’s finals, the group runners-up will contest the play-offs in October 2022.

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The three best second-place finishers will be seeded directly to Round Two. The six remaining runners-up contest three single-leg play-offs in Round One.

The three winners from Round One and the three teams seeded directly to Round Two will then compete in single-leg play-offs, determined by a draw.

The two play-off winners with the highest ranking (based on results in the qualifying group stage and Round Two play-offs) will qualify for the World Cup. The remaining play-off winner will compete in the inter-confederation play-offs from 17 to 23 February 2023 in Australia and New Zealand, with the finals held there from 20 July to 20 August.

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While Pauw and her side have always remained realistic, they are currently in a great position to secure a coveted play-off spot. 

“This team will be at the World Cup 2023 if the draw is not too hard,” the manager said after the previous European Championships qualifying campaign came to a gut-wrenching end.

She labelled their draw into Group A “good, but not the best” when it was made, and later added:

“Our main focus is that we should get the mistakes out of our game so that we do not lose unnecessary goals. If we manage that, I am sure that we will qualify for at least playoffs.”

With the dream more alive than ever, and belief and confidence at an all-time high, that’s most certainly a realistic aim.

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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