Republic of Ireland women's manager Vera Pauw pictured at FAI HQ. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Dutch Gold

'If you put pants on that are too big, they will go down to your ankles'

Vera Pauw: Ireland will stay grounded and realistic as they follow World Cup qualification dream.

VERA PAUW SIGNED off with a nod to home in her pre-match press conference.

‘Getting too big for your boots’ is how we’d say it here, but the Dutchwoman’s translated phrase also did the trick.

It came up while the Republic of Ireland women’s national team manager was talking about dealing with outside noise ahead of tonight’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium [KO 7pm, live on RTÉ Two].

With 6,000 tickets sold by the FAI as of yesterday, a record attendance is expected as the Girls in Green look to build on their positive start to the campaign — a narrow defeat to group powerhouse Sweden and an away win over second seeds Finland, their main direct rivals in terms of qualification.

They’ll hope to take another step in the right direction, and keep their dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament more alive than ever.

Key to that is continuing this upward trajectory with a win over a lower-ranked side. No easy task lies ahead, though, as Ireland look to stay in pole position in the race for second place, at the very least.

While off-field belief and expectation is “really heartwarming,” those in the inner circle need to keep their feet firmly on the ground, Pauw says.

“We, as staff and players, we need to know where we stand,” she declared, before stopping and pausing for a second.

“Can I use a Dutch expression? We always say, ‘If you put pants on that are too big a size, they will go down to your ankles.’

“If we act as if we are bigger than we are, then we’ll have a problem in coping with that.

“We’re very realistic with where we stand, where we can grow to and which steps we want to make. Everybody is concentrated on that, and that is how we get the best out of them at this moment. With that method, every game is getting better. Every game we make the next step into our development, which we might not have been able to do maybe half-a-year ago. I think that is a success: players are so concentrated and willing to execute it with all their energy.

“If everybody realises that we have a long way to go, I think we are on the point of getting at a level where we can qualify, then I think we’re on the right track with each other.”

While Slovakia are bullish in their intent to frustrate the hosts in Dublin, with manager Peter Kopúň predicting they can steal points, Pauw says her squad are “confident as well”.

She forecasts a “very close” fixture, with the 12-place chasm in Fifa’s world rankings an untrue reflection, though agrees a result is “extremely important” to ensure the qualification bid roars on.

And matches that expectation that’s “more from the outside” and fans.

“We know what we can do,” she stresses, “we know our qualities, and we know if we meet our qualities, we have a good chance. But we also know if we don’t meet our qualities, then we have a problem.

“I think the team is so realistic. The previous games, when we played higher opposition (they endured a seven-game losing streak before the campaign), nobody felt that we were not on the right track. Everybody felt that we were making a step every time. No player hesitated. And now it is the same thing.

“They are realistic in what our chances [are], but they are also realistic that we have to have the same level of game as we had against Finland to win to have a chance to win. We will step onto the pitch with the same approach as against Finland, and hopefully we’ll have more of the ball. The intensity needs to be the same. The players are very much aware.”

With momentum on their side and serious support at their backs, the hope is that this side can continue to move up the gears tonight.

“Under pressure” and “pushed back” by higher-ranked Sweden and Finland for the most part, Ireland will likely enjoy more possession this time around, and look to break down their opposition rather than catch them on the break.

It’s a certainly a new challenge. “We have to be at our best,” Pauw deadpans. “It would be fantastic if we get the points, but it will be real hard work, and a very close game.

“They are very structured, individually they have some high qualities. They have a few players standing out, the rest is a very core, structured, experienced squad, that are very difficult to break down. They hardly concede. Their recent games against Sweden (0-1 home defeat) and Finland (2-1 away loss) were very close.”

With “very impressive” new assistant Tom Elmes her right-hand man following Eileen Gleeson’s departure for Glasgow City, Pauw won’t be paying a whole pile of attention to the other massive game in Group A this evening: Sweden v Finland in Gothenburg.

FAI scout Rob Sweeney will in attendance, but the Ireland boss was reluctant to offer a preferred result.

“There are so many theories at this moment,” she explained. “If Sweden would lose, then there is even a chance to win the group if we won all of our other games. If they draw, Sweden is dropping points, Finland is dropping points, there is another situation.

“We can only see after all the games what would be the best result.”

Only one really matters at present: this one in Tallaght Stadium, as Ireland look to keep their pants firmly around their waist.


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