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'We feel we've given it away here' - Pauw laments missed opportunity as Ireland are left seeking miracle

Ireland’s bid to qualify for Euro 2021 suffered a significant setback with Pauw’s women now having to either get a result against Germany or depend on an unlikely Ukrainian slip-up.

Very Pauw on the sideline in Kiev.
Very Pauw on the sideline in Kiev.
Image: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

VERA PAUW WAS left to rue Ireland’s missed chances and, to a greater extent, their misfortune, as they ostensibly ceded control of their own destiny in their bid to reach a first ever major tournament.

A deflating and frustrating 1-0 defeat in Kiev this evening handed the impetus to hosts Ukraine to seize second spot in Group I of Euro 2021 qualification; Ukraine are currently four points behind Ireland but have a game in hand and will face the comparably weak Greece away (27 November) and Montenegro at home (1 December) to round off their group fixtures, while Ireland face runwaway group leaders Germany at Tallaght Stadium (1 December) knowing that they will now probably need a highly unlikely draw or victory to keep the Ukrainians at bay.

Second place in the group would guarantee either Ireland or Ukraine at least a play-off, while the three best runners-up will gain automatic entry to the tournament in England, which has been rescheduled for two years’ time.

vera-pauw-during-the-national-anthem Ireland boss Vera Pauw. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

Speaking post-match, however, Vera Pauw accepted the unlikelihood of results now falling in Ireland’s favour, with Ukraine predicted to comfortably beat both of their remaining opponents while Germany have amassed an extraordinary goal difference of +37 while winning all six of their fixtures to date.

“Greece can only take the points if they have their very, very best day and Ukraine has a day like us where the ball just doesn’t want to go in,” Pauw accepted in her post-match interview with RTÉ. “Normally, Ukraine will win against Greece and Montenegro.

And the chance to win against Germany — we’ll need to sit down and make a gameplan and we’ll do everything we can to get a win. But we all know how strong Germany is and, yeah… We feel that we’ve given it away here.

A stark admission but one made by an understandably downbeat manager: the Dutchwoman could still scarcely believe what she had witnessed in Kiev, her side having twice hit the crossbar through captain Katie McCabe — once from a penalty — and having ultimately succumbed to a farcical own goal following a mix-up between Áine O’Gorman and goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan, the latter of whom was caught a yard or two out of position by a fairly tame backpass.

“It was one of those nights,” Pauw said. “You wouldn’t believe it — if you wrote a book about this, you’d think, ‘Well, make a more realistic book.’

“You score an own goal in a moment that you would think it was the easiest thing to solve, and you miss a penalty kick just a little bit later.

“During a game against a team that is ranked a little bit higher than us [five places ahead of Ireland in Fifa rankings], I think we have been dominating constantly but they have been very smart in the second half in provoking us and provoking everything that was happening on the pitch. That gave us less…let’s say footballing strength on the pitch.”

The last comment was an allusion to Ukraine’s cynicism and street-smartness. In the second half, Natalia Zinchenko’s side bereaved the game of anything resembling rhythm, somewhat curtailing Ireland’s early surge in search of a leveller.

It was clear that Pauw’s women were playing with the weight of a generation on their shoulders, too, for this had been billed — by them as much as anyone — as a monumental moment for Irish women’s football. At times, for all of their pressure and possessional dominance, Ireland’s decision-making was poor, their final ball was either rushed or plainly bad, and their composure wavered.

All of this combined to scupper their efforts as Ukraine held out for what was, to them, a monumental victory.

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louise-quinn-dejected-after-the-game Louise Quinn contends with Ireland's defeat. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

“We said at half-time also: ‘We’ve got 45 minutes to score one goal so don’t rush; and make sure that you keep your structure,’” Pauw recalled.

“The first half, we completely dominated, so the plan was to start in the same way. But time went ticking and there was hardly any football anymore because of an opponent who needed to pull the win over the finish line.

“I think all the stops and all the breaks and all the shouting and screaming — that doesn’t give rest on the play. But we need to get over that and play our structure. I was coaching that constantly. ‘Keep your calm, keep your structure, set it up in a proper way.’

“But we ended up with too many long balls. Although, the long balls in the first half — many of them were very dangerous and we ended up through on goal very often. Those diagonal balls that they put in were actually quite okay. But in the second half, we came to a situation at the end where we wanted to put every ball in high. Then, you get a frantic game and you end up only hoping that the ball falls on the right foot [for your team].”

Pauw wouldn’t be drawn on Lyubov Shmatko, the Ukrainian defender who in reality should have received a second yellow for her foul on Denise O’Sullivan which resulted in McCabe’s missed penalty — albeit her first yellow was soft. In any case, “You cannot turn it back,” said the Ireland boss.

But if she could have some of her own decisions back again, would she have rolled the dice sooner? Amber Barrett and 16-year-old Wexford Youths midfielder Ellen Molloy were fairly influential upon their introductions while Louise Quinn came close with a header, and was generally a nuisance, after migrating north from centre-back in the dying minutes.

ellen-molloy Ellen Molloy, 16, was a late sub for Ireland. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

Pauw, though, maintained that her late attempt at something different in a bid to rescue the game would have been unsustainable if she had tried it earlier, and therefore would not have produced the desired effects.

“The thing is that we had a gameplan we had planned for all the different scenarios. But, as you have seen, we have pulled Katie a bit back so that we have two left footers on the side (with Molloy ahead of her), and we put Louise [Quinn] up [front], and we had planned to only do that for the last five minutes because the chance of conceding another goal is big.

“Before that, there was no reason, there was no player who was exhausted and couldn’t make it any longer. The changes that we made were just a final scenario.

“It must fall right. The fact that at that moment you [put the opposition under more pressure], you would think you could do that earlier. But if you do it earlier, first, you don’t keep the pressure, and second, you will get a goal against you. Because as you’ve seen, we were left playing one-v-one in the back and often, even with a one-player underload in the back.”

Ireland host Germany at Tallaght Stadium on 1 December, with a kick-off time yet to be decided. Ukraine also play their final qualifier, at home to Montenegro, on 1 December.

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