Bryan Keane/INPHO Vera Pauw speaking at today's press conference.
# Showdown
Vera Pauw: Ireland need 'the best game of our lives' in historic World Cup play-off
The Girls In Green face Scotland or Austria as their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament hits new heights.

VERA PAUW SAYS her Ireland side need the game of their lives in Tuesday weeks’ historic World Cup play-off against Scotland or Austria.

The Girls In Green travel to face the winners of next Thursday’s first-round play-off knowing a victory could potentially send them to a first-ever major tournament in the 2023 World Cup.

It may also mean a ticket to February’s inter-confederation tournament in New Zealand, but defeat would spell the end of the road.

When the draw was made earlier this month, Pauw refused to be drawn on which opponent she would prefer, and she kept that stance at today’s squad announcement press conference.

“It’s two completely different styles of play,” she told reporters at Cadbury’s Ireland as she unveiled a 28-strong squad.

“We need to prepare differently for each team. They are more or less on an equal level. Scotland is more a game that we know. Austria is more a continental game, very well structured, they hardly give anything away, but on the other hand Scotland is more direct, more pushing forward and getting more pressure on us. Both very, very difficult. We’ll need to have the best game of our lives.”

The Dutch coach also explained how difficult preparation has been given the unknown quantity of their opponent.

“It’s a bit odd. Never seen that before. The opponent can fully concentrate on us already, and we need to divide our attention. But we have organised that.

“There’s three people going the Scotland-Austria game. One scout for Austria, one scout for Scotland and [assistant coach] Tom Elmes will go because he’s delivering the presentations to the team, he’s doing the analysis of the opponent. He can focus on the overview and being ready the next morning to present. We usually don’t do that, it’s usually one scout. In this case, we need to do everything to be absolutely ready for the game.”

Pauw was forced into several squad changes due to injury: Megan Connolly (ribs), Ruesha Littlejohn (foot), Leanne Kiernan (ankle) and Ellen Molloy (knee) were all unavailable for selection, along with long-term absentees Savannah McCarthy and Aoife Colvill (both ACL).

Regular starters Niamh Fahey and Jamie Finn both return after missing the final group qualifier due to a groin setback and suspension respectively, while there are recalls for Niamh Farrelly, Roma McLaughlin, Izzy Atkinson and Kyra Carusa.

“The thing is that in our line-up, we might be able to handle it. But we need to work very hard to get the new players in to the level that they can really make a difference when they get on the pitch,” Pauw noted.

The manager also feels that big results on the road — April’s 1-1 draw with Sweden stands out from this campaign, along with a 2-1 away win against Finland — have instilled further belief in this team, and there’s no reason why they can’t do the same again.

“We started now three years ago with a team that really wanted to achieve, that wanted to make a difference. We grew to a team that now is absolutely determined to go to the edge to get a result, and I think that that is what we showed.

“Against Sweden, for example, nobody would give us a chance but they did not feel that at all. They went on the pitch to win, and of course, doing that in a way that is realistic so that it’s growing our chances. And therefore nobody’s afraid of Austria or Scotland, although we do know how strong they are — if you look at their selected players and the clubs beside them, you know how strong they are. But we will prepare in the same way.

“It’s another final, like it was against Finland, like it was against Slovakia. And we saw Sweden also as a final, because we needed a point to get to the next stage. We were calculating already back then, everything to get a point. And we could have won because of that approach. 

“This team is not afraid, we know how strong they are. We are realistic. It will be very, very tough but we will be ready again.”

The squad will report into camp on Tuesday, and Pauw confirmed they will watch the Scotland-Austria showdown together on Thursday after playing a game against underage boys.

They will depart Dublin on Sunday, 9 October, with the destination either Glasgow (Hampden Park) or Vienna (St. Pölten).

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