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Ireland's 'influential' captain and Arsenal star cleared for Slovakia showdown

Katie McCabe had been an injury doubt earlier in the week, but has been given the green light to play.

Ireland captain Katie McCabe.
Ireland captain Katie McCabe.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND captain and Arsenal star Katie McCabe has been “cleared to play” tomorrow night’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Slovakia [KO 7pm, live on RTÉ Two].

Vera Pauw confirmed this evening that the left-sided ace sustained a “knock on her foot” in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Manchester United in the FA Women’s Super League.

But she has been given the green light to train this evening, and play at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow. A record crowd is expected, with 6,000 tickets sold by the FAI as of today. (The existing record is 5,238 from Pauw’s first game against Ukraine in October 2019.)

The Dutch coach says that having a fit and firing McCabe is “crucial”.

“She is so influential, our captain, the leader of this squad and we all see the influence that she has in play, she makes things happen,” Pauw told the media this evening.

She has enjoyed a rich vein of form for club and country of late; excellent for the Gunners this season, chipping in with four Women’s Super League goals and sitting joint-top of the assist charts with five.

The 26-year-old is currently training with the squad at FAI HQ, Abbotstown, though Pauw says she will complete a different warm up.

There was no other squad news to report on the eve of tomorrow night’s crunch clash, with all PCR test results returning negative.

Slovakia, Group A’s fourth seeds, are ranked 45th in Fifa’s world rankings, and like Ireland (33rd) are yet to qualify for a major tournament.

While this is a game the Girls in Green are expected to win after their bright start to the campaign, Slovakia are always tough opposition and sit level with Ireland on three points.

Pauw’s side fell to a 1-0 defeat to top seeds Sweden at home, though enjoyed a crucial 2-1 away win in Finland in the battle of Group A’s second and third seeds. The Slovaks also lost 1-0 to the group leaders on home soil, 2-1 to the Finns away, and beat Georgia 2-0 at home last time out.

Slovakia are bullish, with manager Peter Kopúň stating: “We can get points off Ireland. I don’t want to come across as having a big mouth but the strength of this team, how the players are set up, entitles me to such optimism.

“I know Tallaght Stadium well, but quite seriously I can say that this third trip will bring a different result,” he added, having been at the helm for the last two losses in Dublin.

But Pauw responded to those comments with a smirk, saying “we are confident as well”.

“It is very close, the teams are not far apart. It’s definitely not a reflection of the ranking list, you will see. It’s very close, we are confident as well. We go for qualifying, so we go for winning — and at least not losing.

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“It’s extremely important [to get a result to keep the qualification dream alive]. The more points you are getting now, the more you have a buffer later. If you lose points now, there’s immediately no buffer. We have to do our job in every single game.

“We are realistic and understand what our chances are. We have to have the same level of game that we did against Finland to have a chance to win.”

On the potential for a record crowd, Pauw added: “I hope Covid will not be spoiling it because there was already schools that had to cancel their buses because of the Covid regulations. We have 6,000 tickets sold; that’s amazing. Before we had to hand out tickets.”

She puts the shift down to the team’s performances. “I think the team emits a lot of power, a lot of energy and enthusiasm for their sport.”

This evening’s press conference and training was switched to Abbotstown from Tallaght Stadium, due to the haulier protest in Dublin today.

Ireland face Georgia on Tuesday, with Sweden and Finland also going head-to-head tomorrow night.

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy  / reports from FAI HQ.

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