Scoring is the most important element of football and its absence is now afflicting Ireland’s women as well as the men’s team.
Vera Pauw’s side created enough chances against a talented Belgium team last night to have come away from Brussels with a draw, yet the problem wasn’t isolated to this friendly.
While there’s no shame in losing five in a row against higher-ranked nations, a return during that run of just one goal — Katie McCabe’s penalty against Germany — has to be a concern.
Ireland will discover their opposition for the World Cup qualifiers on April 30 but already know they’ll need to beat one of the two higher seeds to stand any chance of competing for a place at the 2023 showpiece.
When asked after this latest loss about what Ireland must improve to start getting results, the Dutchwoman Pauw made the obvious observation.
“We just need to score,” she said. “That is the most difficult part and the rest will develop if we start to score.
“You have to force your luck but I am sure that will come.”
Clearly Ireland must stop giving themselves an uphill struggle too for those fortunes to change.
As occurred against Denmark on Thursday, an early defensive lapse cost Ireland a 1-0 defeat. Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan, one of six newcomers to the side, was exposed on her third cap from Laura De Neve’s inswinging free-kick after 14 minutes.
The West Ham United stopper reacted too late after Tine De Caigny evaded her marker Megan Connolly to ghost into the six-yard box and volley the cross beyond her.
The hosts — featuring six Anderlecht starters — had the look of a well-oiled club side as Ireland struggled to match them early on.
Brosnan had to be alert 25 minutes in to deny Lyon winger Janice Cayman a goal to mark the occasion of her equalling the country’s record of 111 caps.
Ireland eventually got going as the break approached, primarily through the pace of striker Heather Payne.
She delayed her pass a second late to prevent attacking partner Kyra Carusa drifting offside and then tested goalkeeper Justien Odeurs with a shot from an acute angle.
It took an intervention too from Belgium defender Justine Vanhaevermaet to cut out Katie McCabe’s left-wing cross aimed in her direction.
McCabe, celebrating her 50th cap, had a penalty appeal rejected following a challenge from Kassandra Missipo straight after the restart while at the other end, the unmarked De Caigny gave Ireland a let-off by slicing wide at the back post.
Pauw’s second-half substitutions galvanised Ireland.
Emily Whelan was involved in creating the best chance of equalising with 13 minutes left by drawing a crude challenge from Lenie Onzia on the edge of the box.
Ruesha Littlejohn’s resultant rising free-kick was heading into the top corner before being tipped over by Odeurs.
Louise Quinn also had an impact off the bench, using her aerial power when thrust into an attacking role.
Her flick-on with four minutes left allowed fellow sub Rianna Jarrett to connect with a volley that Odeurs turned around the post.
The Brighton striker got one last sight of goal in stoppage time from Denise O’Sullivan’s pass, only to scuff her tame effort straight at the relieved goalkeeper.
Pauw, who will assemble her squad for two more friendlies in June before the qualifiers start in September, added: “We were running after Belgium at the start but picked it up and pressed them better than we did against Denmark.
“I’m proud of the players who were thrown in, some of them did really well in the game. They will make life difficult for me.
“We’re getting closer, closer and closer. It’s just a shame that we didn’t get the rewards against Belgium.”
BELGIUM: J Odeurs; L Deloose (S Wijnants 65), L De Neve (L Onzia 20), A Tysiak; F Delacauw (D Vanmechelen 65), K Missipo, J Biesmans, J Vanhaevermaet, J Cayman; T Wullaert, T De Caigny.
IRELAND: C Brosnan; A Murphy (O’Gorman 46), C O’Riordan, D Caldwell, C Walsh (L Quinn 82), K McCabe; D O’Sullivan, M Connolly (H Nolan 74), R Littlejohn (R Jarrett 82); H Payne (E Whelan 67), K Carusa (E Molloy 67).
Ref: Lizzy Van Der Helm (Netherlands).