The Republic of Ireland blew the chance to surge joint-top of their women’s European Championship group heading into 2020 after conceding a sloppy stoppage-time equaliser against Greece this afternoon.
Amber Barrett’s second international goal on 13 minutes put Ireland in command at the Nea Smyrni Stadium but a litany of missed chances eventually cost them three into the five minutes of stoppage time.
Substitute Anastasia Spiridonidou grabbed an undeserved point for the hosts, putting a dent in Ireland’s ambitions of progressing to the 2021 finals as one of the best runners-up.
They have seven points from nine and are next in action away to Montenegro in March.
Already deprived of three players from last month’s victory over Ukraine, knocks to a couple of others further influenced the selection criteria of Vera Pauw.
According to the Dutchwoman, November is the month of epidemia for injuries in the women’s game. Keeva Keenan and Rianna Jarrett were both considered doubtful enough not to be risked from the start, opening up gaps for others to come in from the cold.
Leanne Kiernan and Barrett, surprise exclusions in Pauw’s first game, earned starts as did Shelbourne pair Jamie Finn and Emily Whelan. It was Finn’s senior debut and a first competitive outing for winger Whelan, just three months after turning 17.
The teen was straight into the action, forcing a free-kick on the edge of the box which Katie McCabe drilled straight into the wall.
The Ireland captain was known as a raiding right winger under Colin Bell but her experience of operating in the left-back role at Arsenal prompted Pauw to deploy her there in place of the injured Megan Campbell.
She was still afforded licence to attack and played a central role in the breakthrough goal, lofting a cross into the box. Denise O’Sullivan was nearest to the ball but allowed it bounce over her head, and that of defender Danai-Eleni Sidiri, to Barrett rushing in behind. Spotting goalkeeper Anthi Papakonstantinou off her line, the FC Koln striker lobbed the static goalkeeper with a first-time volley.
That should have been the cue for Ireland to cement a dominant first-half performance with more goals.
Seven minutes later, Barrett was again left unmarked but her low centre had too much pace for Kiernan to get more than her studs on.
The two centre-back also got sights of goal. Louise Quinn sliced a shot over before Diane Caldwell was off-target with a better chance when the shaky home defence were again unhinged.
Another chance was squandered in first-half injury time after Barrett picked out Niamh Fahey darting from the halfway line, yet the Liverpool midfielder couldn’t keep her shot down.
During the entire first half, Marie Hourihan in the Irish goal was only worked once. When Christina Kokoviadou got between the Irish centre-backs two minutes before the interval, her low shot had to be parried away by the stopper. A last-ditch block by Julieann Russell from Athanasia Moraitou’s close-range shot was also required to keep the Greeks at bay.
Australia-based Russell, on a harsh yellow card, was replaced by Keenan at the break, while Barrett switched roles with Kiernan to allow the latter operate as the sole striker.
O’Sullivan, however, fashioned Ireland’s best opportunity to kill off the game five minutes after the restart. Excellent play from Whelan slipped in the Cork native but she couldn’t find the accuracy, allowing Papakonstantinou to bat away the strike.
In another flowing move, Kiernan miscontrolled O’Sullivan’s through ball and the Greeks finally came alive in the final 20 minutes.
Moraitou floated an 80th-minute shot over the crossbar and, into injury time, Caldwell needed to deflect Veatriki Sarri’s shot out for a corner.
The late pressure finally told when McCabe was left alone at the back post marking two players, one of whom beat Hourihan with a rising shot inside her near post.
GREECE: A Papakonstantinou (PAOK); A Gatsou (PAOK), DE Sidira (Apollon), N Chatzigiannidou (PAOK); V Kydonaki (OFI), E Markou (Apollon Ladies), E Kakambouki (PAOK), K Kinossidou (Apollon); A Moraitou (South Alabama), D Chatzinikolaou (Napoli), C Kokoviadou (Aris Salonica).
Subs: V Sarri (Sheffield United) for Kydonaki (60 mins), D Kaldaridou (Diosgyori VTK) for Kakambouki (72 mins), Anastasia Spiridonidou (Zaragoza) for Moraitou (83 mins).
IRELAND: M Hourihan (SC Braga); JA Russell (Sydney University), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), K McCabe (Arsenal); N Fahey (Liverpool), J Finn (Shelbourne); L Kiernan (West Ham United), D O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), E Whelan (Shelbourne); A Barrett (FC Koln).
Subs: K Keenan (Celtic) for Russell (h/t), S Roche (CF Florentia) for Barrett (83).
Referee: Henrikke Nervik (Norway)