Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Vera Pauw celebrates at the final whistle of yesterday's 1-0 win in Slovakia.
# no fear
Pauw gets her wish as Ireland's World Cup play-off picture becomes slightly clearer
The Girls In Green have secured a first-round bye and will discover their fate in Friday’s draw.

VERA PAUW’S WISH has been granted, her Republic of Ireland women’s national team not joined by the Netherlands in the 2023 World Cup play-offs.

The Girls In Green secured a seeded place after rounding off their Group A campaign with a 1-0 win in Slovakia yesterday, a string of other results having also gone their way in recent days.

Later last night, a 93rd-minute Dutch winner courtesy of Esmee Brugts sent Pauw’s native nation directly to next summer’s finals as Group C winners. Ireland are one of nine runners-up navigating the convoluted play-off system.

The Girls In Green are one of three seeded teams for Friday’s draw — Iceland and Switzerland are the others — and they bypass Round One as their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament breaks new ground.

It’s an open draw for Round One and Round Two, the one-leg fixtures could be home or away. Those games are scheduled for 6 and 11 October.

Pauw’s side are currently 26th in Fifa’s world rankings — in or around the middle of the nine teams. Three of Belgium (19th), Austria (20th), Scotland (23rd), Portugal (27th), Wales (30th), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (63rd) will join Ireland, Iceland (14th) and Switzerland (21st) in Round Two.

(All but three others — Scotland, Wales and Bosnia — featured at this summer’s Euros.)

Speaking after Ireland’s win last night, Pauw echoed previous sentiments that they’ll fear no none.

“No, of course but I don’t know what the Netherlands-Iceland will be tonight, it kicks off in 25 minutes. We don’t want the Netherlands, but if they don’t make it [directly to the World Cup] we could draw them. And they are ranked fourth in the world. We don’t want that.”

It’s put to her that Ireland did secure a result — a 1-1 draw — away to fellow heavyweights Sweden earlier in this campaign, though.

“Yeah, and they were second in the world. But to be realistic, you want to have a lower ranked team. But you cannot tell, we just need to wait.”

Screen Shot 2022-09-07 at 22.57.57 Uefa / Wikipedia. Uefa / Wikipedia. / Wikipedia.

There will be three teams left standing next month as the Round Two winners — the pair with the highest ranking (based on results in the qualifying group stage and Round Two play-offs) will qualify for next summer’s finals in Australia and New Zealand. The remaining Round Two play-off winner will compete in the first-ever Fifa Women’s World Cup play-off tournament, or inter-confederation play-offs, in New Zealand next February.

10 teams will vie for the last three qualifying spots for the finals there. Should Ireland have to take this route, they’d be among the favourites.

Reacting to last night’s win, Pauw conceded it was “a bit ugly” but was pleased overall as they finish the group stages with five wins, two draws and one defeat, 26 goals scored and four conceded.

“Four clean sheets in-a-row, who would have thought that a while ago?! I said at the pre-match meeting, ‘We always score, if we don’t concede, we always score’. It’s about one or two moments in the game and then the rest is conditional.

“So you have to make sure that the rest needs to be without mistakes, a tight block. And if we go in attack, we must be purposeful. The play in attack was not the nicest but if you are so in control like in a game like tonight, you have really taken a step. Before, we would have left gaps. Moments like that, we would have lost discipline.”

Now it’s onwards to the play-offs, where the manager is looking forward to a long camp in the build-up.

“Yes, of course because we are always better in our second game. The longer we’re together, the clearer the tasks as is the execution.

“I always say that it’s 11 v 11 and about the execution of our tasks. We never give up, we’re there for each other and we stay in control.

“Staying in control is almost our mantra. We showed that tonight.”

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