With the dust still settling on their 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands in Tallaght, the Ireland women’s team are already looking ahead to June and what will be crucial back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Norway.
Wednesday night’s victory for the European champions, which ended Ireland’s unbeaten run in Group 3, put the Dutch three points clear at the top of qualifying Group 3. but, despite that defeat, the Irish retain second place, one point ahead of the Norwegians, who have a game in hand.
With only the group winner guaranteed passage to the finals in France next year, the race for second — and a possible play-off place — could effectively be decided by the two games between Ireland and Norway in the summer though, after June, the Republic will have Northern Ireland to play at home and the Norwegians must host the star-studded Dutch.
Irish goalkeeper Marie Hourihan says that while the players were disappointed to lose to the Netherlands, they will not be lacking in confidence going up against the group’s other big guns in Tallaght on June 8 and in Norway on June 12.
“Don’t get me wrong, the Dutch are a very good team, but we back ourselves to get results in games and to keep ourselves in games to get an opportunity to get a point or three points,” she says. “That’s something we’ll have to take into Norway, who are a nation ranked higher than us, but we have to back ourselves and believe we can get results.
“We have to go into those games and try to give everything to get the best results and make sure we’re still in contention for the final qualifier. It will be a new situation for us in June, with it being the same opposition back to back, but the one thing I do know is, we’ll be extremely well prepared on and off the pitch and, with the quick turnaround as well, maybe playing the same opposition [will mean] there is less analysis in terms of how the opposition set themselves up. So, in that respect, it lessens the load, if you like, but at the end of the day we know they’re two massive games that we have to get results out of.”
Hourihan’s howler gifted Slovakia a goal in Ireland’s 2-1 win against the Group 3 strugglers in Tallaght last Friday, but the successor between the posts to the legendary Emma Byrne bounced back with fine saves to help keep the scoreline respectable against the Dutch.
“For me, this is a new experience coming into this campaign,” said the Man City keeper.
“They were big boots to fill, but it was something I really wanted to take on and push to help the team as much as I possibly can. Emma was the figurehead of Irish women’s football for many years and that’s a tough act to follow, but that’s the sort of pressure I do enjoy and thrive under.”
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