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Vera Pauw: 'We blame ourselves. It's no excuse, but we need to help the players get used to that level'

The Ireland boss echoed the need for her players to train with boys and feel more ‘pressure’ after last night’s friendly defeat to Iceland.

Ireland manager Vera Pauw.
Ireland manager Vera Pauw.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

VERA PAUW’S IMMEDIATE assessment of her Ireland side’s 3-2 friendly defeat at the hands of Iceland last night? “Oh… do we have a few hours?”

Ultimately, a really poor first-half showing proved costly in Reykjavík as the Girls In Green’s preparations for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign continued. On a disappointing note early on anyway, as Ireland were 3-0 down by half time.

Much better after the break, Heather Payne and Amber Barrett grabbed second-half goals, but it was too little too late for the visitors on a windy evening in the Icelandic capital.

For context: Iceland are ranked 17th in the world, having qualified for Euro 2022. Ireland are 17 places back in 34th, and have never qualified for a major tournament, though have fallen agonisingly short of late.

“You can never start the way that we did,” Pauw told FAI TV afterwards. “Everybody’s aware of that; players, staff. The circumstances were very difficult, but that’s no excuse to not fight and not get your DNA going. That’s always the starting point.

“It’s not that we’re not aware of that, it’s not that it’s not been highlighted amongst us, it’s not that the players did not want to, but somehow, they were overwhelmed again. And the thing is, if you always play under lower pressure, it’s as if every time we need to get used to that pressure again, before we can play that pressure.

“And unfortunately, because of the circumstances, it immediately cost us a few goals. That just cannot happen anymore. The thing is if you don’t experience it, then every time it will happen again. So again, I will say you have to train with boys, you need to get the pressure. There’s no other way.”

Conceding early on has been a problem for the side, who have not won a game since beating Montenegro in March 2020, of late, though recent outings have come again much higher-ranked opposition.

It happened in April’s 1-0 friendly defeats to Denmark and Belgium, and in qualifying showdowns with Germany. It was again the case last night as Agla María Albertsdóttir had the ball in the back of the net with just 10 minutes on the clock, before Alexandra Johannsdottir hit home three minutes later and Dagný Brynjarsdóttir rounded off a dominant Icelandic first-half showing in the 39th minute.

denise-osullivan Denise O'Sullivan on the ball last night. Source: Eggert Johannesson/INPHO

Experienced Dutch coach Pauw says this is due to lack of experience playing against this higher pressure.

“That is exactly because of this. I repeat it again: we blame ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no excuse. It cannot happen. You need to play under that pressure but first, you need to get used to that pressure. So again, we need to get players training with boys. It’s the only way.”

Arrangements are in place for this to happen on these shores over the coming months.

“The insurance is arranged. The coaches are helping to get a good place for the players. And if we do that in a very broad range, also under 17, under 19, they train two or three times with the club so there is space for extra training with boys one or two times [per week]. And that means experience every week of the pressure that they feel here.”

Pauw went on to explain how half-time substitutes, Barrett and Éabha O’Mahony, and a change in shape “helped us immensely,” as Australian-born debutante Aoife Colvill and defender Niamh Farrelly, both of Glasgow City, made way.

“During the first half, we arranged the occupation in midfield to at least stop more goals going in, which helped. But at half-time, it was more the personnel.

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“We decided to have pressure on the wings. We brought in Éabha so Katie [McCabe] could go forward, and we had two left-footers there, we had two wingers on the right with Jamie [Finn] and Heather [Payne], and then a real striker forward and that helped us immensely.

heather-payne-celebrates-with-megan-connolly-and-denise-osullivan-after-scoring-a-goal After Heather Payne's goal. Source: Vidir Sigursson/INPHO

“We need to be more clinical. But what I liked is that we could put pressure forward after such a half we had just played. We are capable of jumping up to that level.

“Again, I want to repeat, we do not find excuses. We’ve done really bad in the first half, and we blame ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. But again, we need to help the players to get used to that level so that we don’t have to first get into it, before we can fight it.”

As Pauw has said before these friendlies against “high-calibre opposition” will help Ireland when the next qualifying campaign rolls around in September, giving them the freedom to learn from mistakes as they nail down a game plan in “difficult circumstances that we will face again.”

“We will face it against Sweden, we will face it against Finland, against Slovakia, maybe even Georgia, very difficult circumstances,” she concluded. “We have to be ready to go from the moment at the start.”

Ireland face Iceland in another friendly on Tuesday evening [KO 6pm, live on RTÉ Player and RTÉ News Now].

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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