Irish Euro 2022 hopes suffer crushing blow with Ukraine defeat

An own goal and missed penalty cost Vera Pauw's side dearly and the odds are now stacked against them becoming the first senior Irish women's team to qualify for a major finals
Irish Euro 2022 hopes suffer crushing blow with Ukraine defeat

Ruesha Littlejohn reacts at the full-time whistle, as Ukraine players celebrate at the Obolon Arena. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ukraine 1 Republic of Ireland 0

The dream isn't over for the Republic of Ireland but things are going to have to get real trippy now if the Girls in Green are to appear at the Covid-delayed Euro 2022 after this evening's frustrating and costly defeat in Kiev.

Ireland needed a draw to make sure of a play-off spot from Group I. A win would have put them in a good position to claim an automatic qualifying spot as one of the three best runners-up. The loss they come home with leaves them needing something close to a miracle.

Ukraine are now only four points behind Vera Pauw's side with a game in hand and odds are they will see to Greece and Montenegro in their last two games. Ireland's one remaining tie is at home to Germany, a side rated the world's best and a nation with eight of these European titles to their credit.

It does not look good.

It may be that Greece nick a draw when they welcome Ukraine to Athens, just as they did last November when breaking Irish hearts with an injury-time equaliser. The fear even then was that this late blow would prove to be costly and that has been realised tonight.

Ultimately, though, Ireland should have done enough here. By far the better side, they failed to score despite 13 attempts on goal, one of them a penalty, and fell short because of a deeply unfortunate first-half own goal from Aine O'Gorman.

Cruel in more ways than one.

Courtney Brosnan stepped into the absent Marie Hourihan's shoes in front of goals. That was expected. The only surprise in the Irish side was the decision to go without the experienced Niamh Fahey outfield with Pauw explaining that this was a horses-for-courses selection.

Ukraine were badly hit by a Covid outbreak in their camp this week. Already missing their first-choice goalkeeper and a defender, it emerged later that they would also have to make do without influential midfielder Olha Ovdiychuk too.

Ireland started positively, pressing Ukraine down both flanks and forcing a number of corners in the opening minutes but it was 16 minutes in before they really threatened with Katie McCabe curling a free-kick off the top of the crossbar.

Ukraine had hardly threatened at all but they took the lead when O'Gorman chased back to ward off the danger posed by a Tamila Khimich ball in behind her. The full-back's attempted pass back was heavy and evaded the advancing Brosnan before trickling over the line.

A bad, bad goal to give away.

Ireland continued to dictate the play, though too much of their possession was rushed and ineffective. That changed just after the half-hour when superb passes from McCabe and Rianna Jarrett played Heather Payne in down the right.

Payne's pull-back found the inrushing Denise O'Sullivan who was brought down by Lyubov Shmatko. It was a clear penalty but Shmatko, already on a yellow card, escaped any further censure and so would Ukraine as a collective.

McCabe's penalty was well struck but inches too high and, like her earlier free, it hammered back off the woodwork. One last chance fell to Jarrett courtesy of a brilliant ball by Payne but the centre-forward's finish was far too flimsy.

Shmatko, of all people, cleared it off the line.

A scrappy start to the second-half suited the hosts far more but Ireland gradually began to exert some more influence and Jarrett drew a save from the keeper with a snapshot from an O'Sullivan pullback in the 54th minute.

It was a rare opening in a half where the tension grew by the minute. McCabe had a penalty shout ignored by the Croatian referee but the next real opening of note came with four minutes to go when Louise Quinn headed a McCabe cross a yard over the bar.

The Germans come to Tallaght on December 1st. An empty Tallaght. What an ask that is now.

Ukraine: I Sanina; A Filenko, D Kravets, L Schmatko, N Pantsulaya; I Andruschak, T Khimich; O Boychenko, D Apanaschenko, N Kozlova; Y Kalinina. 

Substitutes: N Kumina for Kalinina and A Voronina for Pantsulaya (both HT); A Petryk for Voronina (70); Y Malakhova for Boychenko (91); G Voronina for Kozlova (94).

Republic of Ireland: C Brosnan; A O'Gorman, D Cladwell, L Quinn, H Scott; M Connolly, D O'Sullivan; H Payne, R Littlejohn, K McCabe; R Jarrett. 

Substitutes: E Molloy for Scott and A Barrett for Jarrett (both 86).

Referee: I Martincic (Croatia).

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