Raw deal won't derail Pauw and Ireland's World Cup dream

“This is very unfair,” the Ireland boss said of Uefa's plans for the playoffs.
Raw deal won't derail Pauw and Ireland's World Cup dream

VERA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: Ireland manager Vera Pauw announces her squad at Cadbury HQ in Dublin. Pic: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Equality should mean so much more than words, as Vera Pauw is never slow to remind the powerbrokers.

Looming on October 11 is the biggest game in the history of Ireland women’s football, arguably even in female sport.

Pauw’s side are 90 minutes away from next year’s World Cup, a playoff platform to crack their major tournament hoodoo with gusto.

Only that shootout and the other two deciders are competing for profile in Europe against the clashing Champions League schedule.

Should Scotland beat Austria in the semi-final, they will welcome Ireland to Hampden Park on the same October 11 night as Celtic host RB Leipzig at Parkhead three miles away.

Glasgow will be abuzz that midweek, for Rangers also meet Liverpool 24 hours later.

Disposable income and time pressures are sure to hamper Scotland’s initiative to pack Hampden for the Celtic derby.

“Of course, it would be better if that wasn’t the case,” Dutchwoman Pauw confessed about the battle for prominence within the footballing sphere. “What do I say about that? We know where we stand and that’s the reality.” 

Then there’s the warped timetable of the final day, risking a throwback to the bygone era when some teams knew, cricket-style, what they were chasing.

Differing kick-off times could matter when it comes to Fifa’s convoluted intercontinental playoff concept.

That is because not only two of the three victors from the October 11 playoffs qualify directly for the World Cup.

In a departure that only blazers could concoct, the winner with the inferior record over the campaign must enter another playoff contest in the host country of New Zealand next February.

Criteria for separating two teams from the other will include the result of the playoff, factoring in goal difference and goals scored if level.

Pauw hasn’t been shy about calling out football authorities for culling international windows in the calendar and is equally vociferous about what she considers a distorted system.

Kick-off times have yet to be confirmed but will be dictated by television demand, rather than a Uefa edict, and Ireland’s showdown in Glasgow or St Polten could be earlier than others.

“This is very unfair,” she blasted. “Every last series of competition is played at the same time except here. I have asked Uefa why this is the case but they haven’t given me an answer.

“The ranking could come down to goal difference and we may be playing one hour earlier than the others. So, one team might know they need an extra goal and they can gamble.

“Uefa have not amended this which is very strange but, to be honest, the whole set-up has not been the best.” 

Ireland have overcome obstacles, specially toppling second seeds Finland twice and drawing with group winners Sweden, to get this far and won’t allow external matters obscure their path to immortality.

They’ll be taking this final leap without injured quartet Ruesha Littlejohn, Leanne Kieran, Ellen Molloy and Megan Connolly – “the stable factor of our defensive team organisation”, according to Pauw – but the cast supporting lynchpins Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan are capable of finishing the job.

Ireland coming up short at this stage, after multiple false dawns, would rankle with Pauw.

"If you don't win, you don't have anything,” she asserted in brutal terms.

“Growing to a certain level is very rewarding for everybody involved; players feel they dominate better in situations, and staff see what all the work brings into the team.

“That is elite sport. It is a very double feeling. While I am proud of where we are, I am very conscious of the fact that we do not have anything yet.” Pauw is reluctant to declare a preference of finalist, highlighting their strengths in different departments. Austria reaching the semis and quarters in successive Euros, most recently in July, reinforces their penchant for tournaments but Scotland have two world-class midfielders in Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert.

“Austria don’t rely on those types of players but Scotland do,” she summarised.

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