Norway 1 Ireland 0
Ireland manager Colin Bell was left disappointed that a combination of defensive hesitancy and profligate finishing administered the last rites on their World Cup qualification bid in Norway last night.
While nothing less than victory would have revived their slim ambitions, Ireland were left smarting by Caroline Graham-Hansen’s converted penalty midway through the first half in Stavanger.
Referee Esther Staubli, who later booked teenage debutant Issy Atkinson for entering the pitch too early as a substitute, penalised Claire O’Riordan for her late challenge on Graham-Hansen after 24 minutes.
However, the Swiss referee didn’t point to the spot when Maren Mjelde clearly caught Ireland’s Megan Connolly at the other end.
The Girls in Green almost nicked a late leveller when Katie McCabe swivelled 10 yards out but saw her low shot kept out by goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth.
The defeat was Ireland’s third on the spin, crushing any hopes of them building on the positive start to the campaign that had raised hopes of a first-ever tournament being reached.
Norway will now battle it out with European champions Holland to decide which of them progresses to France next year automatically.
Ireland, meanwhile, are guaranteed third spot even before they host Northern Ireland in the concluding qualifier on August 31.
“Claire (O’Riordan) committed to the tackle early but Graham-Hansen was already up in the air before that,” said Ireland manager Bell. “Not every referee would give that decision.
“In the case of our claim, I felt we were never going to get a penalty here. We created enough chances to have gotten a point and missing is always decisive at this top level of international football.
“In the two games against Norway, our three goals were conceded from a corner, free-kick, and penalty. It doesn’t get worse than that.”
Similar to Friday’s 2-0 defeat in the first match between the nations at Tallaght Stadium, Norway dominated the early exchanges.
They channelled attacks primarily through right-winger Graham-Hansen, who Áine O’Gorman had the task of shadowing on her 100th cap. The Wolfsburg star was first to translate pressure into a clear-cut opening, forcing Marie Hourihan to turn her 17th-minute effort around the post.
Ireland were managing to repel their illustrious opponents just as the breakthrough arrived eight minutes later.
Graham-Hansen was allowed raid into the right side of the penalty area, inviting O’Riordan into a mistimed challenge on the occasion of her first competitive start. While Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan guessed the right way, Graham-Hansen’s 22nd goal of her international career was nestled into the bottom corner.
Following that opener, Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan, and Leanne Kiernan all went close to levelling but Ireland were also fortunate not to concede a second penalty five minutes from the end after Hourihan impeded Isabell Herlovsen.
“Ireland caused us more problems than in Friday’s game in Dublin but we still deserved to win,” said Norway boss Martin Sjögren.
“They are definitely better than the other teams in the group, Northern Ireland and Slovakia, so I think they have a lot to be optimistic about.”
NORWAY: I Hjelmseth (Stabaek); I Moe Wold (Lillestrom), M Mjelde (Chelsea), M Thorisdottir (Chelsea), E Haavi (Lillestrom); C Graham Hansen (Wolfsburg), F Maanum (Lingkoping), I Syrstad Engen (Lillestrom), G Reiten (Lillestrom); L-M Utland (FC Rosengård), I Herlovsen (Valerenga).
Subs: E Thorsnes (Utah Royals) for Utland (61 mins), V Boe Rise (Arna-Bjonar) for Maanum (64 mins), S Skinnes Hansen (Lillestrom) for Herlovsen (90+2 mins).
IRELAND: M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry-Campbell (Brighton & Hove Albion), C O’Riordan (Wexford), L Quinn (Arsenal), Á O’Gorman (Peamount Utd); K Duggan (Peamount Utd); T Toland (Maiden City); D O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), M Connolly (Florida State Seminoles); K McCabe (Arsenal); L Kiernan (Shelbourne).
Subs: A Barrett (Peamount Utd) and R Jarrett (Wexford) for Connolly and Kiernan (both 83 mins), I Atkinson (Shelbourne) for O’Gorman (89 mins).
Referee: Esther Staubli (SUI).
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