Irish camp rues costly slip in second place battle

Idle hands make for prolonged bouts of reflection but Ireland cannot afford to dwell too much on their Greek tragedy.

Irish camp rues costly slip in second place battle

Idle hands make for prolonged bouts of reflection but Ireland cannot afford to dwell too much on their Greek tragedy.

Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Athens secured a point on the road but all of the delegation, from manager Vera Pauw through to the players, confessed that an opportunity was spurned.

Points mean prizes in the qualification hunt, given the unified recognition among their group rivals that Germany will romp to top spot.

At the expanded 2021 European Championships in England, three of the 16 teams will have clinched their spots by finishing second.

The other runners-ups from the nine groups go through to play-offs next November for the final three berths.

As the graphic on this page shows, Ireland have lost vital ground in that second-place table.

Pauw has gone even further by dismissing that route.

Ireland’s goalscorer Amber Barrett deemed the draw a “bump along the road”, but when bumps come against a lower seed in the pool, the repercussions are extreme.

Further consuming Ireland’s thoughts until they resume their campaign with a double-header against Greece and Montenegro in March will be the nature of Greece’s equaliser.

Not alone should the cross two minutes into stoppage time have been prevented, but Eleni Markou muscled in between Louise Quinn and Niamh Fahey to flick a header into the path of Anastasia Spiridonidou to volley home.

“Greece were more streetwise than us, had five strikers on the pitch at the end and we didn’t deal with them,” said Pauw.

“We missed a lot of chances to get the second goal, but the question is why did we miss them. We will have to learn from this.”

Captain Katie McCabe was the Ireland player left alone at the back post marking two opponents for that equaliser.

“They wanted to try get us to drop down to their level and we ended up playing into their hands,” she said after the match.

“The standards we set means that we should be beating these teams.”

Barrett, who gave Ireland the lead on 13 minutes with her second international goal, was finding it difficult to leave the ghosts of the ancient city behind.

“We got punished for not putting our chances away and sitting back,” said the 23-year-old.

“For some reason, we just didn’t get into our rhythm. We all made mistakes and will have to be better when we play Greece at home and Montenegro away in March.”

Pauw has only been in the job for two months, but now won’t see her squad as a group for another four.

The Dutchwoman had already hit out at colleges for refusing to release Harriet Scott and Heather Payne.

“We could bring the squad together in the meantime, but the foreign clubs will not allow the players to come,” she insisted.

The blitz nature of the campaign means the March double-header is followed by a trip to Germany in April. Then Ireland’s visit to second seeds Ukraine in June is likely to be a ‘cup final’ in the bid to retain second spot and that coveted play-off spot.

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