Bell’s fighting Irish hold mighty Dutch in World Cup qualifier

They may have survived some scares in Nijmegen last night but Ireland remain well in the mix to challenge for World Cup qualification after preventing the Netherlands from extending their winning run to 12 matches.

Although the European champions were far superior in terms of possession and chances, Colin Bell’s side withstood the pressure to stay unbeaten after three games of their tilt at reaching the 2019 showpiece France. They are joint-top with the Dutch at the summit of Group Three.

“I cannot praise the players enough. They put their bodies on the line for every second of the game and got an incredible result,” said Bell.

For the Girls in Green to boost their chances of reaching a first ever major tournament, their home form in 2018 will be crucial.

Up next is a home double-header in Tallaght against Slovakia and the Dutch in April, providing a window to at least finish second and claim a play-off shot at reaching a first-ever major finals.

They even accomplished their best ever result with goalkeeper Marie Hourihan picking up a muscle injury in the second half which forced her to kick with her weaker foot.

Those misdirected deliveries heaped more pressure on the Girls in Green but they managed to withstand the pressure to nick a precious point.

Conscious of the need to coral the Dutch attacking threat, Bell started with a new formation by dropping Niamh Fahey from midfield into defence across a back five.

The change proved successful as Vivianne Miedema, the 21-year-old chasing her 50th international goal, was denied the space she thrives on and spent most of the game with her back to goal.

On the rare occasion of a defensive lapse, when her Arsenal teammate Louise Quinn failed to clear on the edge of her box, Ireland were saved by the post from the striker’s ferocious low effort.

The Dutch were forced to work hard for the rest of their chances, with Ajax defender Stefanie van der Gragt twice left frustrated by goal-line clearances by 16-year-old Tyler Toland from corner kicks.

Miedema missed a couple of half-chances to pinch the win, while Lieke Martens nodded over from a corner, but the jubilant scenes at the end were well deserved by the Irish heroines.

“Having watched Holland dominate at the Euros, we had to play three centre-backs and they, along with wing-backs Sophie Perry and Harriet Scott, were superb,” said Bell.

“It is early in the campaign but all we want to do is get amongst the top seeds in the group, Holland and Norway, and see where that takes us.”

NETHERLANDS:

S van Veenendaal; D van Lunteren (R Jansen 46), A Dekker, S van der Gragt, D Janssen; J Groenen, S Spitse, D van de Donk (Van Es 83); S van de Sanden (J Roord 59), V Miedema, L Martens.

REP OF IRELAND:

M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), H Scott (Reading); N Fahey (Bordeaux), K Duggan (UCD Waves); T Toland (Maiden City), D O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), K McCabe (Glasgow City); A Barrett (Peamount Utd).

Sub:

L Kiernan (Shelbourne) for Barrett (46 mins).

Referee:

A Pustovoitova (RUS).


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