Vera Pauw's Ireland return to action with daunting German test

Pauw and her players have been realistic but resolute this week whenever they have taken time out of their preparations in Duisburg to share their thoughts
Vera Pauw's Ireland return to action with daunting German test

Republic of Ireland players, including Leanne Kiernan, second from right, with assistant coach Eileen Gleeson, right, during a Republic of Ireland women's training session at Stadion Essen in Essen, Germany. Picture: Lukas Schulze/Sportsfile

Eileen Gleeson couldn't contain her excitement. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager was all packed and ready to fly out to Germany earlier this week when she rang her boss Vera Pauw and told her how it felt like Christmas.

It's been six months since their side last played, a 1-0 defeat of Greece in Tallaght leaving them top of Group I in the race for a place at what will now be the 2022 European Championship before the world pressed pause and faced up to a pandemic.

The problem with thinking about Christmas at this time of year is that you have to get through Halloween first and the prospect of facing Germany in Essen today is undoubtedly a scary one even if the visitors don't seem inclined to think of it in those terms.

Pauw and her players have been realistic but resolute this week whenever they have taken time out of their preparations in Duisburg to share their thoughts. In case you haven't heard yet, the hosts have scored 31 goals and conceded none in their four games to date.

That they trail Ireland by a point in the group is down more to the game less they have played than the undoubtedly impressive start made by the Irish but the gap between the side ranked second best in the world right now and one on the 31st rung will be apparent here.

Like Shamrock Rovers against AC Milan the other night, it's not Ireland's plan to defend for long periods, that's just how it will turn out. They will need luck, concentration, tactical discipline and individual heroics to align this afternoon and even then it could be grim.

Germany have rebuilt under Martina Voss Tecklenburg after a dip in fortunes under Steffi Jones. Defeat in the World Cup quarter-final last year was their one reversal in the last 24 games and a new generation of players has been bedding in.

Katie McCabe warms up during a Republic of Ireland women's training session at Stadion Essen in Essen, Germany. Picture: Lukas Schulze/Sportsfile
Katie McCabe warms up during a Republic of Ireland women's training session at Stadion Essen in Essen, Germany. Picture: Lukas Schulze/Sportsfile

The hosts will test Ireland with attacking full-backs, balls between the lines and over the top and with pace. That variety in approach is matched by a roster that radiates ability and whose promise is summed up by Lena Oberdorf.

Still only 18, Oberdorf caught the eye as a ten at Essen but has operated as a defensive midfielder and as a centre-back. Now with Wolfsburg, who made the Champions League final recently, she played all five of Germany's World Cup games in France in 2019 only months after her senior debut.

“The only way to prepare is to be clear,” said Pauw when asked earlier this week about the scale of the task ahead. 

Everybody knows what we’re doing and everybody is clear how we’re going to do it. That is how we use these days, we’ve got five days together after six months.

“The only thing we can do is to make sure the tasks are related to one another and that everything is clear to everybody and everybody believes in that strategy. The players need to carry that strategy into the game and coach a lot to the younger ones and make sure we don’t lose the grip of what we want to do.”

Ireland are likely to have half-a-dozen of those who played in the 0-0 draw against the Netherlands, who were reigning European champions at the time, in Nijmegen back in 2017 and experience in general is in good supply throughout the ranks.

Pauw is helped too by the lack of injuries this week while Megan Connolly adds to her options after missing the last three games and both Heather Payne and Leanne Kiernan are back involved after missing the last get-together in March.

For anything sensational, or close to it, to happen here they will probably need Ruesha Littlejohn or Denise O'Sullivan to conjure something magical with little possession, or a fourth goal of the campaign from Katie McCabe, or another Diane Caldwell header from a setpiece.

A draw today would, barring an even bigger shock down the line when Greece face Germany, would probably secure a playoff sport for Ireland. That nobody has even mentioned that this week is revealing in itself.

Odds are that a point will still be needed when they visit Ukraine next month.

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