Ireland face must-win game against Portugal

Ireland must beat Portugal in this evening’s concluding European Championship qualifier at Tallaght Stadium (6pm) to finish the campaign in third spot.

At the end of a qualification tilt which promised much but delivered another disappointing outcome, an improved performance and result would bode well for the next campaign, the World Cup qualifiers.

Portugal are the only team Ireland have beaten over the qualifiers apart from minnows Montenegro and since that result last October it’s been the Iberians who’ve gone on to challenge for progression into the expanded finals next year in the Netherlands.

While Ireland are out of contention, Portugal can secure second spot and a play-off if they win in Dublin and table-toppers Spain complete their campaign with a 100 per cent record against Finland tonight.

Defeats home and away to Finland derailed Ireland’s prospects and the fact Portugal arrive here fresh from beating the Finns four days ago demonstrates the challenge Sue Ronan’s side face.

“We wanted to finish first or second in the group and it didn’t work out that way,” explained Ronan. “This team is still a work-in-progress and it’s important we beat Portugal because they could take a third seeds in the next campaign which would be a blow for us.”

The Ireland manager is hampered by the absence of US-based attacker Megan Connolly, the Cork native who made herself unavailable for the fixtures, but influential Chelsea defender Niamh Fahey returns to the fold.

Emma Byrne will take her place in the Irish goal for what could be her last time. The Arsenal stopper turned 37 in the summer and may opt to concentrate on completing her club career after a decorated spell on the international circuit.

IRELAND (probable):

E Byrne (Arsenal); S Perry (Reading WFC), N Fahey (Chelsea Ladies), L Quinn (Eskilstuna United DFF), K Duggan (UCD Waves); D Caldwell (SC Sand), R Littlejohn (Glasgow Celtic); JA Russell (UCD Waves), D O’Sullivan (Houston Dash), K McCabe (Arsenal Ladies); C Shine (Glasgow City).

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