Vera Pauw speaking to the media today. Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO
Swede Dreams

'Our tigers will be ready,' says Pauw as Ireland's World Cup dream begins

The Girls In Green face Sweden, the second best team in the world, on Thursday.

A NEW DAWN, a new day; the next chapter begins this week.

Vera Pauw’s Republic of Ireland women’s national team open a fresh bid to reach a first-ever major tournament, as their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off on Thursday.

The world’s second-ranked team, Sweden, come to a sold-out Tallaght Stadium – under current Covid restrictions – as the Girls In Green belatedly get up and running in Group A, before a trip to Finland to face the second seeds five days later.

It’s a clean slate; the unsuccessful Euro 2022 qualifying campaign in the rear-view mirror. The scars are still there from that heartbreaking night in Kiev, for one, but it’s about moving on.

Since the curtain came down on the last campaign, Ireland have played a series of friendlies against higher-ranked opposition (Pauw’s side are 33rd in the world). A win over 11th-placed Austrlia ensured a seven-game losing streak didn’t extend, and provided the perfect boost ahead of the next chapter.

But just how far has this team come since the Euro 2022 qualification dream ended?

Have they advanced their standing in world football?

“The last question, we need to see,” Pauw said at a press conference today announcing Cadbury as an official partner of team.

“The ranking list is the objective measurement, and we’ve lost a place because we have chosen to play high, high opposition, but every game we get better.

“Every single game, we get better. Even if we have lots of players on the pitch who usually do not play that much. I’m so proud of that, because if you change the squad, you still get better, and the others are coming in and you again get better, that means that the potential for the bench players is as big as for the ones on the pitch.

“They work so hard, we do a lot with the players who do not play that much to catch up, so that they also grow and that’s usually out of camp. The way they respond is fantastic.

“So yes, we do grow every single game. We’re getting closer, but we need to see Thursday if we’re ready for this level.”

There’s no denying the fact that Sweden are one of the best attacking sides in the world.

Led by veteran captain and record-breaking icon Caroline Seger, their squad is a star-studded one — fresh off an Olympic silver medal with a perfect start made to their own campaign.

For Ireland, it’s a formidable challenge, but they have every chance, Pauw says.

“The approach is not different [to before], but we have more experience with this pressure and therefore we can play on a higher level and therefore we can offer more.

“We’ll try to eliminate their highest qualities and take the best of our own qualities; that is the task that we have. It will be tough, backs against the wall but our tigers will be ready for that fight again.”

katie-mccabe-and-vera-pauw Katie McCabe and Vera Pauw at today's press conference. Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO / INPHO

The fans in Tallaght will be “invaluable” right the way through — “It’s a shame we can only sell 4,000 tickets because I think that we could have doubled the numbers easily, the requests are so big. But of course the protocols are not for nothing; we have to keep each other safe and we respect that” — as they look to lay down a marker early on in this particularly difficult window.

Next Tuesday, it’s destination Helsinki Olympic Stadium to face Finland, Ireland’s likely rivals for Group A’s second spot, and the subsequent playoff route.

Unwilling to share a points target for the opening double-header, Pauw continued:

“Of course we want to win. If you play opposition that is ranked so much higher; the second [ranked] team in the world, finalists of the Olympic Games; you need to prepare as best as you can to play the best game that you have in you as a team, as a collective.

“That is what we do, and that process needs to bring us to a result. What result that will be, we’ll see after the games. As long as we don’t make mistakes, we don’t give anything away and if we are playing at the top of our game, then we’ll see how the results will go.”

Pauw also hailed Cadbury coming on board as an official partner, the latest positive development of a lengthy list, and told a story to hammer home the strides made on and off the field.

“It’s fantastic. After all the good news that we had already recently, the addition of this, it’s amazing. The development of the game at all levels is starting to grow and grow and grow.

“I was running in the park this weekend. There was one moment that I really noticed the difference with before – there was a family with an older girl and a younger boy, and the boy wasn’t interested but the girl was carrying a ball on her feet throughout the park. When I met them later, the ball was still at her feet. Whereas before, a girl would only play if she has brothers who are interested.

“The momentum is so big, and that we have sponsors like Cadbury coming in is just amazing. It’s especially fantastic for the future, for the young girls, the six to 10-year-olds that are now finding their place to play.”

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