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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Vera Pauw and Katie McCabe in this evening's press conference at Hampden Park.
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'If we succeed, it would change lives' - Pauw on Ireland's World Cup dream
Ireland face Scotland in an historic play-off showdown at Hampden Park tomorrow night.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND women’s national team manager Vera Pauw believes World Cup qualification “would change lives”.

Pauw’s side are potentially one game away from reaching a first-ever major tournament in Australia and New Zealand 2023, facing Scotland in an historic play-off at Hampden Park tomorrow night [KO 8pm, RTÉ 2].

A win in Glasgow paired with a Switzerland or Iceland slip-up would see the Girls In Green qualify directly for next summer’s finals, but victory alone may mean navigating an inter-confederation play-off tournament Down Under in February.

Ultimately, the winner takes it all, with World Cup hopes more alive than ever regardless of the next step, and this fixture arguably the biggest in this team’s history.

Pauw has repeatedly said that her injury-hit squad need their “best game ever” in this, their “biggest cup final” — their only other play-off for Euro 2009 — and speaking in her pre-match press conference at Hampden, stressed the impact of result tomorrow night.

“This would be a first, that Ireland might qualify for a World Cup,” the manager told a large travelling media contingent.

“Scotland has been there in 2017 (Euros) and 2019 World Cup. They have the experience of being there and getting through the play-offs. And that is the key difference between them and us. That they have the experience of knowing how to get over the line.

“The ultimate goal of elite football, of international football, is to inspire the next generation. That’s why we put so much money into a few players, but that is because of developing the whole game all over the world. It gives massive future for girls. If we succeed it would change lives.”

On the enormity of the fixture and tempering expectations and nerves within the squad, she added: “I said it already last week and I mean it, we’ve played a few finals already. Those games were as crucial as this game. That is how we approach it, in the same way, in the same style.” 

Sitting on her right-hand side, captain Katie McCabe echoed those sentiments: “It’s the stuff of dreams, isn’t it? You dream of playing at major tournaments.

“I can’t get too ahead of myself, we still have to obviously play the game. One thing for us over the course of the campaign is they’ve all been massive games, and this is no different. Yes, we know what’s at stake but we know our strengths and we’ll be looking to do everything we can tomorrow night to get over the line.”

The world-class Arsenal star later spoke about feeling the support behind this team and their chance to make a real impact as women’s football explodes across the globe.

“For us it’s about, obviously going into that first major tournament in our history and what it would do for football in Ireland would be massive. That’s what we want to do. We want to achieve that goal, but we want to also inspire young girls in Ireland, making sure they can dream and hopefully play for Ireland too.

“I’ve got my little sister who is representing the U16s at the minute. We want to put ourselves in that limelight to show that they can achieve and play professional football, make major tournaments. Obviously the focus will be on winning the game but if we win it, the knock-on effect of that would be massive.

katie-mccabe Ryan Byrne / INPHO Katie McCabe and the Ireland squad training at Hampden this evening. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Ever since I got the captaincy… as a young kid I’ve always wanted to represent Ireland. To do it as captain, it fills with pride each and every single time. It’s something I’ll never take for granted, leading the girls out. It will be an absolute pleasure to do it tomorrow night here at Hampden as well.”

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Both player and manager paid tribute to the hefty injured contingent — Megan Connolly, Ruesha Littlejohn, Leanne Kiernan, Ellen Molloy and Jess Ziu among the latest casualties, with Ziu’s setback confirmed as an ACL today.

“She came into the hotel for a few moments, we embraced her. It’s unfortunate, I think that it is something to be discussed after this game,” Pauw said of the West Ham star.

With no fresh doubts, the Dutch coach wouldn’t be drawn on whether her side practiced penalties in the build-up — a win after a shoot-out would yield one ranking point tomorrow, as opposed to three in 120 minutes (“It’s confusing, isn’t it,” McCabe grinned) — but touched on the staggered kick-off times.

Having previously aired her concerns and worries, Ireland’s later kick-off time now works in their favour, with Switzerland-Wales and Portugal-Iceland both at 6pm.

“Yeah, true. The other teams will not be happy. When I said it, I said it with my heart of sports development; fair play and fair competition. That was my remak. That we’re now on the positive side does not take my remarks away, because I still find that those games should have been started at the same time.”

Pedro Martinez Losa’s “dynamic” Scotland are 23rd in the Fifa world rankings, three places above Ireland, with Real Madrid star Caroline Weir and Chelsea ace Erin Cuthbert their standout players.

The last game of the 22 the sides have played, the Scots won 1-0 in 2017. 

An attendance of 10,000 or so is expected tomorrow night, a new Hampden record set in Scotland’s 1-0 extra-time first-round play-off win over Austria last week.

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