Pride and hope restored now Vera Pauw's Ireland must deliver

Points extracted from the two nations seeded above are the proven method of splitting them in the final standings
Pride and hope restored now Vera Pauw's Ireland must deliver

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw celebrates following the win over Australia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Pride rather than points was the dividend from Tuesday’s win over Australia but results in next month’s pair of qualifiers will go a long way to deciding Ireland’s World Cup fate.

While the opening double-header against Sweden on October 21 and Finland five days later won’t make or break their qualification prospects, history shows points extracted from the two nations seeded above are the proven method of splitting them in the final standings.

It was the 3-2 win over second seeds Ukraine in October 2019 — Vera Pauw’s first game in charge of the Irish women — that laid the foundation to mount an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to reach next year’s Euros.

Likewise, a scoreless draw away to champions Netherlands early in the 2019 World Cup campaign ensured they maintained an interest until the latter stages.

To beat an Australian side 22 Fifa ranking places above them in 11th should form the groundwork for Ireland to be competitive.

Sustaining that momentum throughout the eight-game series until next September’s final outing in Slovakia is the difference they must engineer.

The type of errors which pockmarked their seven-match losing streak — and were evident again in Australia’s first equaliser — will have to be eradicated for their campaign to prosper.

Sweden, fresh from clinching silver at the Olympics, have already amassed six points by beating Slovakia 1-0 and Georgia 4-0 over the past week.

That the favourites to clinch the one automatic ticket for the 2023 showpiece were held scoreless by the bottom seeds at home for the opening 40 minutes on Tuesday could suggest they are prone to being pressed like the exalted Aussies were at Tallaght Stadium.

Louise Quinn — whose header sealed Ireland’s 3-2 win, a first for 18 months — is particularly familiar with the Swedes having spent three seasons at Eskilstuna from 2013-2016.

“You didn’t even have to look where you were playing your passes because you knew where your teammates were going to be,” the Birmingham City defender recalled.

“The Sweden national side are similar with their tactics. They’re just a well-drilled side.

“We’ve already watched a lot of their clips, as they played Australia twice at the Olympics, and you always have to know what’s coming.

“I think we’ve just to set ourselves up nicely.”

Whatever about that tussle at Tallaght, it is the visit to Helsinki that’ll prove pivotal in the hunt for second place.

Ireland's Heather Payne and Kyra Cooney-Cross of Australia. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Ireland's Heather Payne and Kyra Cooney-Cross of Australia. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Runners-up clinches entry into a convoluted playoff system, which could require one or two hurdles to reach the World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Finland have qualified for four of the last five European Championships, including next year’s instalment in England, yet the World Cup has eluded them.

That’s uppermost among the reasons why their federation has swung open the doors of their 40,000 Olympic Stadium for the visit of Ireland.

“At this moment, it’s about making sure we at least get that second spot,” added Quinn.

“That’s where we’re going. And when we’re facing the likes of Sweden, we’ve to try to steal something.

“Playing like we did against Australia always gives us hope. We’re going into these pair of qualifiers having performed well against top nations.

“This is it and we have to be ready for the qualifiers. You don’t get many chances to reach a major tournament, as we learnt during the Euro campaign.

“We have to do it by going out of our comfort zone and feeling that pressure. So is getting consistency of performances. That has to be worked on.”

Consistency of selection would help too. So soon
into the new season, both teams were understandably weakened for Tuesday’s friendly and Pauw noted that she operated without five first-choice starters.

Some of those absentees may now be second choice following contributions from the newcomers.

Of the coterie due to return for the next October window, Megan Connolly’s status as a Women’s Super League mainstay at Brighton and Hove Albion is likely to guarantee her inclusion in midfield.

Aston Villa’s Ruesha Littlejohn would have similar claims for the same area but none of the others fit and available carry compelling cases for dislodging the incumbents. Serious ankle injuries rule out defenders Keeva Keenan, Megan Campbell, and Claire O’Riordan for the November window at home to Slovakia and Georgia too.

Despite another blunder for the first equaliser, Courtney Brosnan appears to have won the trust of Pauw and her goalkeeper coach Jan Willem van Ede as the preferred goalkeeper. Grace Moloney overcame last week’s illness but was left on the bench.

To her credit, Everton back-up stopper Brosnan recovered from her latest error to produce a couple of saves, while her distribution in starting moves is another trait in her favour.

The new home-based starter, Savannah McCarthy, did enough to keep her place in defence and Lucy Quinn made herself undroppable up top with a debut goal.

Pauw’s initial go-to striker Rianna Jarrett has been squeezed out in the selection stakes, as has Leanne Kiernan who only made the squad as a late replacement. With another English-born forward, Lilly Agg, emulating Quinn by declaring through ancestry, the striking options are expanding.

Good times at last for Irish international football. Next month will determine whether it’s momentary or momentous.

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