Rep of Ireland 0 Norway 2
After this deflating defeat in Tallaght, the girls in green know that, if they are to revive their dream of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, they will have to pull off the biggest result in their history by beating Norway in Stavanger on Tuesday.
They might have to do it without the services of experienced defender Louise Quinn who was forced out of yesterday’s game with a broken nose.
“A must-win? Of course, if we lose again then it’s done,” said manager Colin Bell after the final whistle.
“We’re playing against top teams. You can see the difference. They’re individually stronger, better. But they’re the things we’re aiming for. So of course we’re disappointed that we lost and disappointed we conceded such poor goals.
“The players left everything on the pitch again but we use and waste too much energy in these kind of games. And we’re making easy mistakes for goals — corner, free-kick, that’s it. The frustrating thing is that, yes, we’ve got a lot of work to do but we were not miles away from Norway. You stop those two goals and then, OK, they’re going to have shots on goal and chances with the quality they have, but there’s not miles between us. But there is a gap.”
Asked if he feels like it’s mission impossible to close that gap in Stavanger, Bell replied: “I don’t think so, I honestly don’t think so. We had situations where we were very good, situations where we got behind them and got the ball in the box. But I’m not going to put too much on the girls. They’re giving everything they’ve got but we have to improve.”
For this meeting with the group’s nominal top seeds — though the table is topped by Euro champions Holland — the Irish team was once again missing some of its star names, with long-term injury victims Megan Campbell and Stephanie Roche joined in the treatment room by FAI Player of the Year Harriet Scott. Heather Payne, Amy Boyle-Carr, and Saoirse Noonan were all unavailable because of Leaving Certificate commitments.
Ireland began in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Leanne Kiernan up top, but with skipper Katie McCabe forced to spend more time defending than attacking, the Shelbourne striker found herself starved of service in the first half, as a physically strong and mobile Norwegian side dominated the play.
In the 20th minute, the visitors took a deserved lead, though the manner of the goal was disappointing from an Irish point of view. Lise-Marie Utland’s header from Guro Reiten’s corner beat goalkeeper Marie Hourihan on her line all too easily.
Nine minutes later, as the Norwegians looked certain to double their advantage, the ‘keeper did brilliantly to get crucial fingertips to a powerful drive from Reiten so that her goal-bound effort crashed back off the crossbar.
In the 35th minute, the Irish suffered another blow as Louise Quinn, on medical advice but clearly very much against her will, was forced to the sidelines, with Claire O’Riordan coming on as her replacement.
Denise O’Sullivan’s driving runs from midfield were one uplifting feature for Ireland but it was Norway who continued to threaten. Just before the break, Isabell Herlovsen spurned an inviting chance to put them two up with a close-range header from Reiten’s free-kick which looped over the Irish bar.
Two minutes into second half, Ireland finally had their very first attempt on goal of the game, and it was all the work of Leanne Kiernan who embarked on a blistering solo run half the length of the pitch which ended with a shot from the edge of the box that Hjelmseth got down to save.
That flicker of Irish hope was crudely extinguished on the hour mark when, from another set-piece delivery, Utland grabbed her second after the green shirts failed to deal with Caroline Graham Hansen’s lofted free kick into the box.
While the Irish applied some late pressure in the game, they only narrowly avoided their heaviest defeat of the campaign when the upright denied Reiten with three minutes remaining.
The final scoreline still relegated Bell’s charges to third place in the group, two behind the second-placed Norwegians, who also retain a game in hand.
Republic of Ireland: Hourihan, O’Gorman, Caldwell, Quinn (O’Riordan), Perry-Campbell, Fahey (Barrett 70), Duggan, Toland, O’Sullivan, McCabe, Kiernan
Norway: Hjelmseth, Mold, Mjelde, Thorisdottir, Skinnes Hansen, Graham Hansen (Boe Rise 70), Maanum, Syrstad Engen, Reiten,Utland (Thorsnes 75), Herlovsen (Jensen 89)
Referee: Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine).
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