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'We are going to qualify. After this week, I dare to say that' - Ireland boss Pauw

The Dutch coach is confident in what she’s seen ahead of her first Euro 2021 qualifier in charge tonight.

Vera Pauw at training in Tallaght Stadium yesterday.
Vera Pauw at training in Tallaght Stadium yesterday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHEN VERA PAUW first took over the Ireland Women’s National Team, she thought that tonight’s crucial Euro 2021 qualifier clash against Ukraine may come too soon. 

After a week in camp though, she’s fully confident that her side are ready to go — and at that, can qualify for a first-ever major tournament across the water in England the summer after next.

“Because of the professional attitude and the way that we’ve started, it feels like I’ve been in for months already,” the Dutch coach told reporters yesterday. “I think we’re absolutely ready to go. It’s all planned. No excuses, not one.”

The visit of Ukraine to what could be a sold-out Tallaght Stadium tonight [KO 7.30pm, live on RTÉ] will be Pauw’s first competitive fixture in charge. The 56-year-old was appointed after Ireland’s campaign-opening 2-0 win over Group I minnows Montenegro last month.

With Germany in electric form and comfortably top of the group — they’ve beaten second seeds Ukraine 8-0 twice now — tonight’s meeting is crucial for the Girls In Green.

All 8,000 tickets have been sold or claimed by FAI season ticket holders and a waiting list is in operation for the fixture, which should easily break Ireland’s current record attendance of 4,047. Not a bad atmosphere for Pauw to start out in. Is she excited?

“It’s amazing of course, it’s absolutely amazing,” she smiles, before regaining her game face. “But it’s not about me, it’s about Irish women’s football.

“You’ve invested so much work over the past few years, they have invested so much. They went through so much. I am there to help but it’s not about me. It’s about that we win tomorrow. And if we cannot win, that we don’t give the game up. That is what it’s about. We are going to qualify.”

Really?

“Yes,” she nods.

Definitely?

“Yes. After this week, I dare to say that. At least qualify for the play-offs. If you meet a very, very highly-ranked team because they do not do well in the qualifying group, you can end up with a problem but we will qualify for the play-offs.”

vera-pauw Speaking in yesterday's pre-match press conference. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While Germany also beat Montenegro 10-0 (and Greece open their campaign this afternoon), Pauw knows that the realistic situation is Ireland are fighting for second place [the group winners and the three best runners-up after play-offs will join hosts England in the final tournament.]

They will do everything they can against Germany, of course, but the entire focus now is a “positive result” –  ie. not losing — against Ukraine. That would be a massive step in the right direction towards qualifying for a first-ever major tournament. 

And Ireland captain Katie McCabe is just as confident.

“Yes, absolutely,” the Arsenal star assures.

“For me, what I’ve been most impressed with is the reaction from every single player this week. We’ve just been so concentrated on what Vera wants and how we’re going to perform tomorrow night against Ukraine.

“That’s what I love about this team: we’re willing to do everything and give 100% in everything that we do. That’s why I feel so confident going out with them girls behind me ready to perform and give everything for Ireland and that shirt.”

“I hope you realise that is why we cannot lose,” Pauw interjects. “There’s so much still to grow, there’s so much potential in this team. We cannot give [points] away tomorrow. Don’t be disappointed if we choose in the last 10 minutes to go for a draw.”

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While Ukraine could be coming to town in low spirits after 8-0 losses at home and away to Germany, Pauw is well aware that it could also “fire them up because this is their chance”. All will be revealed this evening. But that makes no odds.

“We are fully prepared for their full strength, we know what we need to do,” she insists, reflecting on a successful week of camp. 

“We train related to every game. We played against boys this week to exercise what we are learning under the highest pressure. Those boys put us under real pressure, pressure that we can expect against Ukraine.”

On Thursday night, they lined out against UCD men’s U15s in a training game at the Sport Ireland campus, something she feels exposes male and female’s different traits so they can then learn off each other.

It was something the players enjoyed, McCabe says.

“For me, I enjoyed it. I know the girls enjoyed it. It’s something that we’ve not done for a while. I think the last time we played a lads team was under Sue Ronan.

“For us, having that physicality, the lads are quicker and stronger, they can see that pass forward that maybe if we were playing against each other, you wouldn’t get that intensity in training.

“For me and the girls, we really enjoyed it and obviously want to thank the lads again for coming out and giving us a game. It’s obviously important for Vera to see players in game situations and a game scenario and we have to raise that level again playing against them. 

“I think it’s really important to get that physicality in because Ukraine are going to be big and strong.”

And Pauw is equally impressed with the results she’s seen so far.

“I am very pleased with the results, yes,” she responds immediately.

“It’s about the team building process, getting the best out of them against the resistance of an opponent who tries to do the opposite. Because of that, you can only develop under the highest pressure.

“Also in training we’ve played a lot of 11-a-side. I said already that we had a few [fitness] doubts so we brought the boys to play with us so that we could play 11-a-side in a training session. That means the set-up of the game, what we can expect from each other under pressure from Ukraine is clear.”

Yes, there were “one or two doubts” on players’ full fitness yesterday, but there are no major issues of note with everyone available for tonight’s showdown under Tuesday Night Lights. 

So after laying solid foundations and building on the work of her predecessor Colin Bell and interim manager Tom O’Connor, who oversaw the Euro 2021 qualification opener, the focus now switches to qualifier number two. 

And taking another step on the Road to England 2021.

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Emma Duffy

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