Emma Byrne heroics in vain as gutsy Ireland suffer defeat to Spain

Spain 3 Republic of Ireland 0: Reality bit for Ireland’s women in Madrid yesterday but at least they won’t have to play Spain again in their pursuit of Euro qualification.

Despite yesterday’s defeat to the group’s top seeds, secured by three second half goals, Sue Ronan’s girls in green can still qualify for the 2017 showpiece by sealing second place in their final three qualifiers.

The Spanish have dished out some hammerings during their perfect six-game campaign and it looked like another was looming after just two minutes of yesterday’s contest.

That was when Niamh Fahey was harshly penalised for a foul inside the box but her the Chelsea defender’s former clubmate from her Arsenal days, Emma Byrne, helped her out by saving the resultant penalty kick from Verónica Boquete.

It would be the only blemish of the game for the Bayern Munich striker, best known as Vero, who would atone by bagging a brace.

As expected, Ireland were pegged back for the remainder of the half and lucky to survive four minutes from the break when Alexis Putellas raced clear and beat Byrne only to see her effort slip beyond the far post.

Ireland were working off scraps but remarkably almost forged ahead as Julie-Ann Russell’s free kick was nodded down in the box by Louise Quinn for Stephanie Roche who was inches from silencing the home support.

Roche once again went close early in the second half from a free-kick which was saved by Dolores Gallardo.

That was to be the last breakthrough chance for Ireland as quickness of mind and movement created the opener for Spain on 59 minutes.

Putellas produced the opening by getting in behind the Irish defence, crossing from the end line and there to convert was Boquete.

The Spanish skipper was now coming into her own and the class apparent during the first half was translating into goals. Six minutes later, her second arrived.

Leila Ouahabi made room on the left to pick out Boquete, whose powerful header left Byrne stranded.

Although Ronan made an ambitious double-change by introducing Jessica Gleeson and Ruesha Littlejohn, there was little by way of goalmouth action for the duo.

Instead, they could only watch in admiration as Jennifer Hermoso rattled the net with an 86th-minute rasping effort from the edge of the penalty area.

Ireland are currently third in the table and must beat Finland next time out in June to challenge for second spot. Portugal may also fancy their chances but Ireland beat them away and shouldn’t present as much of a challenge to the Irish.

Nine points from their last three fixtures, including the visit of minnows Montenegro in June, should secure the runners-up spot and likely progression to their first ever major tournament in the Netherlands next year.

IRELAND:

E Byrne (Arsenal); A O’Gorman (UCD Waves), L Quinn (Eskilstuna Utd), N Fahey (Chelsea), M De Burca (Galway); K Duggan (UCD Waves), D Caldwell (Koln); K McCabe (Arsenal), D O’Sullivan (Houston Dash), JA Russell (UCD Waves); S Roche (Sunderland).

Subs:

R Littlejohn (Glasgow City) for Russell, J Gleeson (Wexford) for Fahey (both 68), Fiona O’Sullivan (San Francisco Dons) for McCabe (78)


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