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A success? - Reviewing Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign so far

The play-off bound Girls In Green rounded off the group stages with a fifth win last night.

Ireland celebrating Tuesday's 1-0 win in Slovakia.
Ireland celebrating Tuesday's 1-0 win in Slovakia.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE CONCLUSION OF the Republic of Ireland’s 2023 World Cup qualifying Group A campaign calls for reflection.

Vera Pauw’s history-makers are heading for the play-offs, sealing their progression and then shortening their route with 1-0 wins over Finland and Slovakia in recent days.

The numbers? Five wins, two draws and one defeat en route to finishing second in the group. 17 points from a possible 24, the seven dropped to runaway group winners and European heavyweights Sweden (five) and the Slovaks (two).

26 goals scored – 13 of those shared by world-class duo Katie McCabe (seven) and Denise O’Sullivan (six) – four conceded, and four clean sheets, courtesy of Courtney Brosnan and her defence.

The results?

  • Sweden 0-1 defeat (H)
  • Finland 2-1 win (A)
  • Slovakia 1-1 draw (H)
  • Georgia 11-0 win (H)
  • Sweden 1-1 draw (A)
  • Georgia 9-0 win (A)
  • Finland 1-0 win (H)
  • Slovakia 1-0 win (A)

A success? Most definitely.

Third seeds coming in, the Girls In Green took maximum points from Finland, who were second. A monumental 2-1 win in Helsinki really sparked their World Cup dream as they looked to reach a first-ever major tournament, and last Thursday’s victory at Tallaght Stadium secured the play-off spot.

Pauw’s side finished seven points clear of the Finns in the end, and five short of Sweden.

Having kicked off with a one-goal defeat in Dublin, Ireland claimed one of the biggest results in their history in Gothenburg: a 1-1 draw after McCabe famously put Ireland in the lead and dampened their automatic qualification party.

A 1-1 home draw with Slovakia was the only real blot on their copybook, but ultimately, didn’t matter a whole pile in the end.

Like some patchy performances  – the last two against Finland and Slovakia particularly concerning to some, but Ireland won’t care.

Job done. Two wins, six points and onwards to the play-offs.

It’s all about results, but it is worth a closer look at the most recent window. Lily Agg and O’Sullivan were the goal-scoring heroes, two moments of magic ultimately settling two largely uninspiring games.

The start against Finland was nervy, but somewhat expected with so much at stake. The second half was better, but still nowhere near Ireland’s finest showing.

They began brighter and on the front foot in Slovakia, but it was a frustrating game which ebbed and flowed. “A bit ugly,” as Pauw said herself, though mission accomplished against a poor outfit with Ireland in complete control.

There was no shortage of needle, the Slovaks turning nasty as they targetted McCabe and co. — a sure sign of Ireland’s progress that they’re now being kicked. Another is that they kept their composure, the team having evidently matured in recent times with a different mindset and mentality on show.

And then there’s eking out results without having everything their own way.

A string of friendlies against higher-ranked opposition before this campaign clearly left them in good stead. Pauw came in for some heat amidst a run of seven straight defeats, but the results that matter tell the real story.

Much better under pressure, less stupid mistakes, untold differences to the failed Euro 2022 bid, the ghost of Kiev almost banished.

andrea-horvathova-and-ellen-molloy Ellen Molloy facing Slovakia’s Andrea Horvathova. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Pauw used 18 players across the most recent double-header, her hand forced at times. She was without the services regular starters Niamh Fahey, Megan Connolly, Ruesha Littlejohn (all injury) and Jamie Finn (suspended) at different stages, but others stepped up in their absence with serious quality and depth in the squad.

That disruption must be taken into consideration too when reviewing performances, along with the fact that a good chunk of players were in pre-season and lacking game rhythm.

The positives from the campaign thus far are plentiful. Throw in a new record home attendance (6,952 v Finland last week), a new highest-ever win (11-0 v Georgia in Tallaght) and an equal record high in the Fifa world rankings (26th), with everything falling into place nicely for Ireland ahead of the play-offs.

They’ve landed a seeded place and a first-round bye, and will learn their fate in Friday’s draw. A one-leg home or away fixture against one of Belgium, Austria, Scotland, Portugal, Iceland, Switzerland, Wales or Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in wait on 11 October. A cup final, effectively.

It’s a convoluted route, but one which will become clearer by the end of the week.

And Ireland have big ambitions, as captain fantastic McCabe said best.

“You see what the Lionesses have done in the Euros over the summer, them putting the WSL on the map. We want to put the Republic of Ireland on the map. We want to be competing against the best teams in Europe and the best teams in the world.

“We want to give people tough games, we’re not going to make it easy for people to beat us. We’re here to challenge and we really want to make a major tournament.”

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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