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'They are so ready to do something special. I hope we can make the Irish people proud'

Vera Pauw’s Ireland are all set for the biggest game of their lives.

TODAY IS THE day.

It’s probably the biggest game in the history of Irish women’s football. The biggest in recent memory anyway.

katie-mccabe-and-vera-pauw-celebrate-winning Ireland captain Katie McCabe and manager Vera Pauw. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

The Girls in Green face Ukraine in a decisive Euro 2022 qualifier in Kyiv [KO 5pm Irish time, live on RTÉ Two]. As Vera Pauw and her side have been saying all week, this is a “cup final” as their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament roars on.

A win or draw guarantees Ireland a playoff spot, at least, with one game to go after this evening’s showdown. And what a monumental achievement that would be, with it all to play for still in Group I.

The team is “sharp but also relaxed,” as Pauw reported from the Obolon Arena last night as final preparations were made. “The gameplan is set and we’re ready to go.”

The Dutch boss was full of praise and gratitude for the support back home after all travel plans through the Covid crisis went “smoothly” thanks to the historic charter flight from their training base in Duisburg, Germany.

But now Ireland are ready to do their talking on the pitch, and hopefully, give the nation a lift through these tough times.

“The whole team is just on the fringe, they are so ready to do something special and to change the world of football for girls and women in Ireland. That’s such a good feeling, and I want to say again, I’m privileged to be part of that.

“It’s amazing, what can I say? I think it’s a very positive team. Every player is open for everybody and that’s what we want to emit also. We have a lot of respect for what we gain and we are fighting to make people proud. I hope that we can make you all proud.”

In further pre-match interviews yesterday, Pauw stressed that she and her side weren’t distracted by Ukraine’s Covid-19 scare, while all Irish players had tested negative for the virus on three occasions: before camp, in the team base on Monday and the standard Uefa test before flying on Wednesday. 

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After positive tests, Ukraine will be without their first-choice goalkeeper, Kateryna Samson, who was there for their only major tournament appearance at Euro 2009, and defender Kateryna Korsun for what manager Natalia Zinchenko sees as a “must-win game” having “identified Ireland’s weaknesses.”

But Pauw and her side will focus on themselves.

“We have prepared really well for this game and we will be ready on Friday for what will be a huge occasion for women’s football in Ireland,” as she told the FAI. “A draw would secure a play-off but we know that we will not be given anything, we will have to fight for it.

“We are aware of reports of Covid cases in the Ukraine squad, but we are just focused on ourselves and following all of the right protocols. We have stayed in regular contact with our medical team and the HSE to ensure that all players and staff remain disciplined in this process and it is great that we have returned all negative results.

“The qualifying campaign has gone well so far for us and we have improved along the way, however this is now when it matters most. We need to get a positive outcome from Friday’s game to keep the dream alive of qualifying for the European Championships in 2022.”

Having secured four wins and one draw, and fallen to one defeat, Ireland are currently second in Group I behind all-conquering Germany, with second seeds Ukraine — who they beat 3-2 at Tallaght Stadium last year — their main runners-up spot rivals.

The nine group winners and three best runners-up (Ireland are fourth at the minute) qualify directly for the finals tournament in England, while the remaining six runners-up advance to next April’s playoffs.

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Emma Duffy

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